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Legal VIEW

Being Good Samaritan Has Rewards ... Within Limits

December 31, 1987|JEFFREY S. KLEIN

If you've been a good Samaritan and tried to prevent a crime or help a victim, you shouldn't lose anything as a result of your efforts. And California apparently recognized that fact when it passed the Good Samaritan Act about 20 years ago.

In essence, the law allows you or your surviving spouse or children to recover up to $10,000 "for any injury, death, or damage sustained" as a direct consequence of certain meritorious deeds. The reimbursable expenses include medical bills, lost wages or property damage.

Police Officers Not Covered

The law applies to any private citizen (but not an on-duty police officer, lifeguard or similar official paid to perform such lifesaving deeds) who is hurt or killed or who sustains property damage as a result of apprehending a criminal, preventing the commission of a crime or rescuing a person in immediate danger of injury or death from fire, drowning or other catastrophe.

But there is a limit to the government's generosity. You're allowed to collect reimbursement for your monetary loss only to the extent that you have not been compensated "from any other source." So, if you incurred medical bills but had them paid by an insurance company, you can't collect for those payments under this law. And, according to a Court of Appeal decision issued earlier this month, you cannot collect money for "pain and suffering"--only for actual out-of-pocket losses.

The court acknowledged that it would be a costly administrative burden to determine the value of such pain and suffering and noted that even actual victims of crimes are not compensated for that kind of loss under a similar program.

In the same case, the court also ruled that a good Samaritan's spouse or children cannot collect any compensation unless the good Samaritan has died, since the statute refers to benefits for the "surviving" spouse and children. The program is administered in Sacramento by the State Board of Control, which operates the Victims of Crime program, a much more widely known and used program.

Few Applications

For instance, while the Board of Control receives about 20,000 applications each year from victims of crime seeking compensation for injuries, there are less than 100 applications from good Samaritans, according to Alan Klein, the assistant program manager of the Victims of Crime program. (The maximum recovery to victims of crime--after Jan. 1, 1986--is $46,000.)

For further information on the application process, call or write the Board of Control, 770 L St., 8th floor, Sacramento, Calif. 95814, telephone (916) 322-4426. You may also be able to pick up an application for the victims program from your local district attorney's office.

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