Samaritan Ruling - Good Samaritan Laws Apply to Homeowners, Court Rules.

The Legal Intelligencer Good Samaritan Laws Apply to Homeowners, Court Rules
The Legal Intelligencer
June 11, 1999.

Since Friend Helped Drunk Neighbor, Jury Must Decide Possible Negligence by Lori Litchman

Sections 323 and 324 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, otherwise known as the Good Samaritan doctrine, can and should be applied to homeowners, the Superior Court has ruled.

It is the first time the doctrine has been applied in that context in Pennsylvania.

The decision gives the go-ahead for a trial to determine whether a Bucks County man was negligent in not getting his neighbor medical attention after the intoxicated neighbor fell at a party. The neighbor sustained permanent brain damage from the fall.

"To summarize, we hold that both Section 323 and Section 324 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts are applicable as to homeowners under the specific facts herein," Judge Correale F. Stevens wrote for the three-judge panel in Filter v. McCabe.

"Under said facts, it is clear that appellee took charge of the helpless, injured appellant after his fall. The reasonableness of appellee's actions in caring for appellant once he undertook to render aid and whether appellee's discontinuing that care left appellant in a worse position is a question of fact finder, and not by the trial court as a matter of law."

The decision reverses and remands a Bucks County Common Pleas Court decision that granted the defendant's preliminary objections.

Stewart J. Eisenberg of Eisenberg, Rothweiler, Winkler, Eisenberg & Jeck, P.C. filed the appeal on behalf of his client Lorraine S. Filter, who filed it on behalf of her husband Edward. Francis J. Deasey of Deasey, Mahoney & Bender represented defendant Thomas McCabe.

On December 29, 1995, Edward Filter attended a party at McCabe's Doylestown home. Both had been drinking, and Filter was the only remaining guest after the party ended.

After the party ended, Filter fell in the basement, struck his head on the concrete floor and was left unconscious.

McCabe revived Filter and moved him to a couch. Filter then left sometime before McCabe woke up in the morning without telling McCabe that he was leaving.

When McCabe woke up, he called Filter's home to see if he had arrived home safely. Filter's wife told McCabe that her husband was home and was sleeping. McCabe called back about an hour later and then told the wife of Filter's fall.

At that time, the wife tried to wake her husband, but couldn't. She called for an ambulance, and later that day Filter had to undergo brain surgery for a subdural hematoma. He now suffers from permanent brain damage.

Filter's wife alleges that McCabe was negligent in not caring for her husband after his fall.

The trial court concluded that McCabe could not be held liable under the Good Samaritan doctrine because it had found no caselaw that held a normal lay person responsible under that law.

The appeals court disagreed.

"The trial court concluded that, because Pennsylvania caselaw has not applied the Restatement (Second) of Torts Section 323 to laypersons, or more specifically to homeowners, appellants are excluded from making such a claim in negligence against appellee," Stevens wrote. "We disagree. A review of over 100 cases in Pennsylvania, which have dealt with Section 323, reveals that homeowners are not excluded from such liability."

But Deasey disagrees with the court's reasoning.

"They concluded that simply because there is no case that says Section 323 doesn't apply to homeowners, that it does apply to homeowners," Deasey said.

"There was no rendering of aid because of a known or suspected injury such as a brain injury," Deasey said. "McCabe just didn't want the guy to get in an accident on the way home."

Deasey said he has not yet decided if he will file for an appeal.

The appeals court also cited an Arizona case in which a person voluntarily offered to drive an intoxicated person home, but then let him drive. The man was then killed in a car accident.

"The Arizona Court of Appeals held that the Good Samaritan Doctrine creates a duty of care on an individual regardless of whether the aid is provided by a person acting as a government, commercial or private entity," Stevens wrote.

The court also decided that Section 324 was applicable because McCabe did not seek medical attention for Filter and failed to tell his wife at first about the fall.

"Based on the foregoing review of the language of the Restatement (Second) of Torts and the applicable caselaw, we cannot, as a matter of law, preclude the application of Section 324 to appellee-homeowner," Stevens wrote. "Rather, it is for a jury to determine whether there is liability on appellee for his conduct in the within case."