Better for Good Samaritan Ultrarunners to Pass By on the Other Side? (Part 2)

Find the first part of this discussion here.  Leaving Virginia, what about the Good Samaritan laws in each of the states where one of the races that comprises the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning is held (i.e., Western States in California, Wasatch in Utah, Vermont 100 in Vermont, and Leadville in Colorado)?

California

The Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run will take place this year on June 28-29 on trails in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.

A photo of the Duncan Canyon section of the Western States 100 course.  Image by Chad Silker at http://100milewarrior.blogspot.com.

Right away, looking at California’s law, we can identify a significant difference from Virginia’s.  Reading California Health and Safety Code § 1799.102(a) we find the following (my emphasis):

No person who in good faith, and not for compensation, renders emergency medical or nonmedical care at the scene of an emergency shall be liable for any civil damages resulting from any act or omission. The scene of an emergency shall not include emergency departments and other places where medical care is usually offered. This subdivision applies only to the medical, law enforcement, and emergency personnel specified in this chapter.

Thus, as Professor Sutton points out, California is one of “eight states [that] provide no immunity to private individuals who do not meet certain qualifications of training or certification.”  Reading down a bit further in the statute we find subsection (b)(2) which says the following (my emphasis):

Except for those persons specified in subdivision (a), no person who in good faith, and not for compensation, renders emergency medical or nonmedical care or assistance at the scene of an emergency shall be liable for civil damages resulting from any act or omission other than an act or omission constituting gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct. The scene of an emergency shall not include emergency departments and other places where medical care is usually offered.

So in the case of an untrained volunteer who tries to provide assistance at the scene of an emergency, their protection from liability is limited in California when compared to what their liability would be in Virginia.  This places California in what Professor Sutton calls “Level Five.”  According to her analysis (my emphasis):

This changes nothing from common law tort liability and appears to make these statutes of no value for the rescuer at all. The fifth group of states maintains their position at the bottom of the list because they provide no immunity to private individuals, but these states limit the persons provided with immunity to various licensees or categories of workers.

In a race like Western States, that analysis of the effect of the law is highly unfortunate.  Taking a look at the “Medical Risks” section of the Western States 2014 Participant Guide gives an idea of what hazards runners are up against.  Race organizers specifically note that “the inaccessibility of much of the trail will make it difficult or impossible for medical assistance to reach the runner immediately” and they caution runners to “be aware of the number of miles to the next [medical checkpoint], realizing that getting rescue vehicles into these areas can be difficult, if not impossible” and finally (italics in original) “there is absolutely no assurance that aid or rescue assistance will arrive in time to give you effective assistance should you become sick, incapacitated or injured.”

The obvious implication of those facts is that other race participants might be the only ones immediately on the scene of a medical emergency; there is simply no guarantee that they will have the training or certification that California requires in order to be immune from liability for injuries they might cause while trying to help.  I think the moral/ethical incentive to help is always strong (and based on my limited experience it very well may be stronger among the ultrarunning community), but if granting an additional legal protection would be an additional incentive to act when someone’s life might be on the line, California should see that as something worth doing.

Utah

According to the race’s website:

The Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run is held in Utah the first Friday and Saturday after Labor Day each year. The run stretches from East Mountain Wilderness Park, Utah to Soldier Hollow, Utah and covers some of the most beautiful scenery the Wasatch Mountains have to offer. There is a cumulative elevation gain of approximately 26,951 feet, as well as a cumulative loss of approximately 26,454 feet throughout the course.

In addition, because the race is held in September, temperatures can range from the 80s to the 20s.  With Wasatch we have another race that, much like Western States, is held in an area where parts of the course might not be readily accessible in case of a medical emergency.  Taking a look at Utah’s Good Samaritan law (Utah Code § 78B-4-501) we find this:

A person who renders emergency care at or near the scene of, or during an emergency, gratuitously and in good faith, is not liable for any civil damages or penalties as a result of any act or omission by the person rendering the emergency care, unless the person is grossly negligent or caused the emergency. As used in this section, “emergency” means an unexpected occurrence involving injury, threat of injury, or illness to a person or the public, including motor vehicle accidents, disasters, actual or threatened discharges, removal, or disposal of hazardous materials, and other accidents or events of a similar nature. “Emergency care” includes actual assistance or advice offered to avoid, mitigate, or attempt to mitigate the effects of an emergency.

Again we see the good faith and voluntary/unpaid requirements present in other statutes.  Utah, is what Professor calls a “Level Two” state; in other words, the Good Samaritan law grants immunity “unless there is gross negligence or worse, willful or wanton behavior, and there is an affirmative demonstration of proof that the actions were taken in ‘good faith.'”  While this statute obviously doesn’t create quite the same incentive as Virginia’s does, it does represent a departure from the common law negligence standard that would otherwise apply (as in the case of California’s law).  Comparatively speaking, then, runners participating in the Wasatch 100 in Utah could presumably feel more free to offer assistance to a fellow runner in case of a medical emergency.

Vermont

The Vermont 100, as the name implies, is a 100-mile race held every year in the hills of Vermont.  The overall altitude and the ascents and descents are less compared to the Sierra Nevada or Wasatch ranges, but nevertheless, the race isn’t exactly a leisurely jog through your neighborhood park either.  The course itself is described as a shamrock loop, so the chance of getting out on the course and dangerously far from medical assistance is probably less than in the case of the first two races.  Still, here is Vermont’s Good Samaritan law (12 V.S.A. § 519):

(a) A person who knows that another is exposed to grave physical harm shall, to the extent that the same can be rendered without danger or peril to himself or without interference with important duties owed to others, give reasonable assistance to the exposed person unless that assistance or care is being provided by others.

(b) A person who provides reasonable assistance in compliance with subsection (a) of this section shall not be liable in civil damages unless his acts constitute gross negligence or unless he will receive or expects to receive remuneration. Nothing contained in this subsection shall alter existing law with respect to tort liability of a practitioner of the healing arts for acts committed in the ordinary course of his practice.

(c) A person who willfully violates subsection (a) of this section shall be fined not more than $100.00.

Subsection (a) is really what sets Vermont apart.  Fans of the television series Seinfeld might remember that it was a violation of Vermont’s duty to assist law that led to the arrest of Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer in the series finale.  Runners at the Vermont 100 who keep running rather than stop to assist an injured runner (who is not already being assisted by someone else) could, in theory, suffer the same fate and be subject to criminal prosecution and a fine for that failure.  Complicating matters is the fact that Vermont lands in Professor Sutton’s “Level Four.”  Those states, including Vermont, “use the standard of merely ‘gross negligence’ to deny immunity to the rescuer, with no consideration of ‘good faith.'”  This puts Vermont in a category of states in which “being a Good Samaritan becomes risky in terms of immunity protection.”

The Vermont 100 course isn’t nearly as treacherous as some ultramarathon courses and the loop design means that runners will pass by medical assistance on a regular basis.  Given the fact that Vermont law creates a harsh standard for fellow runners helping those who might need emergency care, it’s probably a good thing that the race course tends toward the safer end of the scale.

Colorado

The Leadville 100 Trail Run in Leadville, Colorado, is billed as the “Race Across the Sky.”  Considering that the race follows a course through the Colorado Rockies never drops below about 9,200 feet above sea level, I’d say the title of “Race Across the Sky” is well-deserved.

This is how supplies are transported to the aid station at Hope Pass, elevation 12,600 feet. Image by Sylvia Muprhy from http://colorado-lifestyle.blogspot.com.

Given the remoteness of parts of Leadville’s out and back course, what sort of protection does Colorado’s God Samaritan law offer to runners?  The section we want is found at Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-21-108(a):

Any person licensed as a physician and surgeon under the laws of the state of Colorado, or any other person, who in good faith renders emergency care or emergency assistance to a person not presently his patient without compensation at the place of an emergency or accident, including a health care institution as defined in section 13-64-202 (3), shall not be liable for any civil damages for acts or omissions made in good faith as a result of the rendering of such emergency care or emergency assistance during the emergency, unless the acts or omissions were grossly negligent or willful and wanton. This section shall not apply to any person who renders such emergency care or emergency assistance to a patient he is otherwise obligated to cover.

Like Utah, Colorado falls in Professor Sutton’s “Level Two.”  If a volunteer can show that they acted in good faith, they will be protected from liability unless they were grossly negligent  or acted willfully to injure the person in question.  Again, this statute represents a departure from the baseline common law standard, and although it doesn’t give the maximum amount of immunity to Good Samaritans, it does create more of an incentive to help than in some other states.

As far as the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning goes, Western States is probably the “most dangerous” when we look at Good Samaritan laws.  A difficult and inaccessible course is coupled with laws that create no additional incentive for fellow runners to help each other when they are injured.  At the Vermont 100, while the law is not friendly to Good Samaritans, the potential for a more accessible and forgiving course minimizes some of the danger.  With Wasatch and Leadville the courses present dangers to runners, but the Good Samaritan laws create incentives for fellow runners to help one another until medical personnel can arrive.  Perhaps some of this information might make a good case for putting the Old Dominion 100 back in the Grand Slam series thanks to Virginia’s more protective Good Samaritan law?

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