Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Surgeon not protected by Good Samaritan law

If you happen upon someone injured after a car crash or a person having a heart attack in a restaurant and decide to use your skills as a physician to help that person out, you do it secure in the knowledge that your state's Good Samaritan law will protect you.

All 50 states have some form of a law designed to shield physicians from liability when they come to a person's aid in an emergency situation.

But from there, state laws diverge. Some expressly include hospital care, some expressly exclude hospital care and some contain no explicit provision one way or the other.

North Dakota and 28 other states fall into the last category. So a closely divided North Dakota Supreme Court was left to decide whether the state's Good Samaritan law protected a surgeon who was a salaried hospital staff physician from a medical malpractice lawsuit filed after a woman in whose surgery he had assisted died.

In a 3-2 ruling, the justices said vascular surgeon Inder Khokha, MD, was not protected.

In a decision issued in early May, the majority ruled that because the physician "had an expectation of remuneration," he was precluded from claiming immunity under the state's Good Samaritan Act.

The ruling stems from the February 2004 death of Rosie Chamley, who was admitted to Mercy Medical Center in Williston, N.D., to have kidney stones removed.

Salem S. Shahin, MD, Chamley's urologist, performed the surgery. After the procedure, Chamley began to bleed excessively, and her condition became life-threatening. She went back to the operating room, where Dr. Shahin conducted renal exploration to determine what was causing the bleeding. He decided that her kidney would have to be removed. When he had trouble visualizing the blood vessels to and from the kidney, he decided he needed help, according to court documents.


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