Legal Insanity

police

Helping others when they are in a time of need, is in most instances, the "right thing to do".  Morally, we feel obligated to help each other out and usually it is natural reaction to do so.  However, in our perverse legal system, a person who comes to the aid of another may face serious risks.  Liability in any given situation is unpredictable given the swarm of unscrupulous attorneys inundating our senses with slogans such as “have you been injured through no fault of your own we will get you the recovery your deserve.”  Like pouring gasoline on an open flame, attorneys look for a slight spark of “perceived victim-ness” then cultivate this emotion into a lawsuit without regard to traditional notions of right or wrong.  In today’s society, liability cannot be predicted so, as you are about to discover, security comes from never feeling safe.

In a recent California case, Melissa Camp v State of California, a "Good Samaritan" named Officer Frank Lewis was found negligent after responding to the scene of a car crash caused by a drunk driver and order to pay over two point six million dollars in compensation.  What, how, why, you might be asking yourself is an officer of the law liable for helping out at a car crash?  Because an attorney convinced a jury (most likely not of Officer Lewis’ peers) that he had to pay.

Here are the facts.  A group of four friends jumped in a car and went out drinking one night after work.  When the bars closed around 2:00 a.m., the group, being driven by one of the drunken four missed a curve in the road, hit an embankment and rolled the car.  Luckily, no one seems to be injured as the car rolls into a dirt field and comes to rest upright.

The driver dials 911 to call for help, yet assures the dispatcher, that "Everyone’s okay."

By the time Officer Lewis, arrives on the scene, all of the friends are outside the car awaiting help.  Officer Lewis asks each person on multiple occasions if anyone is injured and in need of medical attention.  Specific attention is given to Ms. Camp who is lying on the ground.  Everyone repeatedly states they are not hurt.  Unfortunately for Ms. Camp, she is hospitalized within hours of leaving the scene of the accident with severe spinal cord injuries resulting in paraplegia.  

So, Ms. Camp proceeded to sue the State of California and Officer Lewis for negligence as she claims that her paraplegia was caused not by her friend who was driving under the influence of alcohol, but by the negligence of Officer Lewis for not forcing her to receive medical attention.  Sad and some would say unbelievable that a person who offers help and is denied can later be held liable.  I often lament in my asset protection workshops that in a court of law the truth and common sense are excluded from the courtroom.  Dysfunctional cases like this are brought every day, which is why asset protection is so important. 

P.S.

All did not end badly for Officer Lewis. The Court of Appeal of the State of California reversed the judgment and ruled in favor of the State and Lewis. However this case should serve as a wake-up call.  Not every defendant is as lucky as Lewis.  He had the backing of the State of California and because of State’s involvement, had the funds to appeal the case.  Furthermore, it is not a guarantee that the Appellate Court will reverse the ruling in your favor.  The potential for being sued in this day and age is great.  Therefore, it makes it only more important to protect one’s assets, not only to lessen the risk of being sued, but to decrease the financial blow if it were to happen.

Posted by Clint Coons, asset protection attorney, Seattle, WA

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