If you see somebody in distress, your first impulse may be to jump in and help. This sense of responsibility for your fellow man is a wonderful quality. But you might be putting your own life at risk, especially if you get out of your vehicle on a highway.
This is unfortunately what happened Monday night when 46 year-old Julia Zaman saw a collision on the Dallas North Tollway. A car hit a concrete barrier for unknown reasons, careened across the highway and came to rest on the inside median. Ms. Zaman pulled over and got out of her vehicle to help but was hit and tragically killed by an oncoming car. Not surprisingly, the good Samaritan was well known for her kindness.Another good Samaritan, professional soccer player Ryan Hollingshead was also struck by a car in Bedford while helping a man injured in January. A car skidded on black ice and slammed into a guardrail. The FC Dallas midfielder graciously ran over to assist. Then another car hit a patch of black ice and slid out of control, striking Hollingshead. At first, doctors worried the star athlete might be paralyzed from three vertebral fractures. But this story has a happy ending — last week he was back on the field training with his team.
These incidents demonstrate a key point in good Samaritan cases. The conditions that resulted in the first auto accident are just as dangerous to anyone trying to help. The fast-moving traffic, ice patch, rain, darkness, obstruction, or curvy road remains a factor for another driver to lose control of her car. Because the good Samaritan has gotten out of his vehicle, he or she has no protection if hit by the car.
So what should you do if you witness an accident? Stay in your vehicle and call 911.
Good Samaritans don’t think about what happens if they get hurt. But there is a very real possibility that you could be seriously injured if you stop on a rural road or bolt across a busy highway, no matter how good your intentions are.
Fortunately, you are entitled to recover compensation under your insurance policy, just as you would if you were otherwise hit as a pedestrian. Proving fault to recover from the driver who injured you may prove more challenging, however, if you took a risk — for example, if you ran out in front of a car that did not have time to stop.
However motorists have a responsibility to remain alert to disabled vehicles or other roadway obstructions. The fact that the driver did not expect to encounter a disabled vehicle does not relieve him of liability for reckless conduct.
On the other hand, what happens if you accidentally injure the victim while trying to render aid?
Texas law recognizes that society benefits from people helping each other. Reasonably, a bystander who could be liable for damages might hesitate to take action. With this in mind, good Samaritan laws relieve people “who in good faith administer emergency care as emergency medical service personnel” from civil liability “for an act performed in administering the care.” A good Samaritan can not be sued for saving somebody’s life, but causing injuries in the process.