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New Jersey’s Good Samaritan Act, which immunizes doctors who come to the aid of strangers on the street, does not apply when they do it in a hospital, the state supreme court ruled Wednesday. Justice Virginia Long, writing for a 5-2 majority, said that absent evidence of legislative intent to the contrary, N.J.S.A. 2A:62-A1 applies only when emergency assistance is needed at a location lacking adequate medical facilities in Velazquez v. Jiminez, A-105-00. The court reinstated a verdict for plaintiff Charmaine Velazquez, whose son was born at St. Peter’s Medical Center in New Brunswick, N.J., on Feb. 10, 1994, with cerebral palsy. Obstetrician Teresa Jiminez had asked for emergency assistance when the infant’s shoulder became lodged against the mother’s pelvis, putting him in danger of asphyxiating. The responding doctor, Angela Ranzini, a University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology who was assigned to St. Peter’s, unsuccessfully tried several maneuvers to alleviate the condition. The child later died of complications from pneumonia. Velazquez sued both doctors and reached an out-of-court settlement with Jiminez, but the case against Ranzini went to trial, resulting in a $75,000 verdict. The Appellate Division reversed, finding immunity under the Good Samaritan Act, and Velazquez appealed. The New Jersey Supreme Court, led by Long, said that if the Legislature had intended to immunize doctors in a hospital setting, it would have done so. Every state and the District of Columbia has such a statute, Long noted, and they either expressly exclude hospital care, expressly include it or, like New Jersey, make no provision. Justice Peter Verniero dissented, joined by Justice James Coleman Jr., saying that the case should have been sent back to the trial court to decide whether the defendant physician had a contractual duty to respond to a call for help. If not, she should be protected, Verniero wrote. Velazquez’s lawyer, James Andrews, says the majority reached a logical conclusion. “The ruling is practically correct in that no one should anticipate while in the hospital that the only health-care worker who can be held responsible is the attending physician,” says Andrews, a partner at Blank Rome Comisky & McCauley in Cherry Hill, N.J. But Ranzini’s lawyer, Donald Jacobs, says the ruling could make hospital doctors hesitant to respond to a call for emergency assistance. “This could lead to a high probability of litigation for anyone who becomes involved,” says Jacobs, a partner at Short Hills, N.J.’s Budd Larner Gross Rosenbaum Greenberg & Sade. Long had dismissed the potential of reluctance to respond as “extremely unrealistic.”

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