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California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed 131 of the 140 pieces of legislation that had been on hold pending the resolution of his protracted budget negotiations with the state Legislature, including two that affect personal injury lawsuits. One piece of compromise legislation, Assembly Bill 83, protects people who are not in the medical profession from being sued after they help someone at the scene of an accident, unless their actions rise to the level of gross negligence or recklessness. The “Good Samaritan” bill was introduced after the California Supreme Court ruled, in Van Horn v. Watson, No. S152360 (Cal. 2008), that only trained emergency medical responders were immune from liability under the state’s Health and Safety Code. In that case, a woman who was rendered a paraplegic by an automobile accident sued the friend who had pulled her out of the car. The bill was supported both by the Consumer Attorneys of California and the Civil Justice Association of California, a tort reform group. Christine Spagnoli, president of the consumer attorneys and a partner at Greene, Broillet & Wheeler in Santa Monica, Calif., said that the legislation broadens the number of people who are protected from liability. “The bar has been set higher,” she said. “People who do something and unintentionally cause additional harm aren’t going to be faced with having to be potentially sued. It’s really more for someone who is aware of the fact that what they’re doing is not right and they’re going to potentially cause harm and go ahead and do it anyway.” For instance, if a drunk driver stops at the scene of an accident and puts the injured person in his car, and then gets into a crash, the driver potentially could be held liable for gross negligence, she said. On the other hand, a sober driver who rescues the injured party and, while speeding to the hospital, crashes into another vehicle, might not face liability. The CJAC also spearheaded passage of Assembly Bill 470, which allows insurance companies to directly provide medical or accident records to an injured party’s lawyer, said Kim Stone, vice president for legislation at the CJAC. Previously, California’s privacy laws allowed insurance companies to provide that information only to the injured party. “If we can make things easier, which leads to quicker settlements, everyone will be happier and there will be fewer lawsuits,” Stone said. “If these insurance claims get resolved quicker, you don’t have to go to a lawsuit.”

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