Expansion of ‘Good Samaritan’ law sought

CARSON CITY — Lawmakers were urged Thursday to expand Nevada’s "Good Samaritan" law that protects many medical professionals from being sued as a result of their volunteer efforts during natural or man-caused disasters.

Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, said her Assembly Bill 200 would add psychologists to the list, and also ensure that other medical professionals who are retired or not practicing full-time would have immunity from lawsuit for any "good faith" help to disaster victims.

"This is a time where we do need a lot of volunteers because times are tough, and if there was a natural disaster it’s important to have access to those types of individuals and health care professionals," Gansert told the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

Gansert was backed by Gabriel Bonnet, a retired Reno doctor active in Red Cross relief efforts around the country, who cited a report ranking Nevada 44th among all states in preparedness for public health emergencies such as disease outbreaks, bioterrorism and natural disasters.

The December 2008 report, from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said the current recession and federal funding cuts could further erode states’ abilities to prepare for disasters.

"In these difficult economic times, volunteerism should be encouraged as much as possible," Bonnett said, adding that two medical volunteer groups formed in Las Vegas and Reno after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have liability coverage provided by local governments, but a third such group in Reno lacks that protection.

The bill was challenged by Graham Galloway of the Nevada Justice Association, representing trial lawyers, who said his group supports the efforts by the Red Cross and others who volunteer to help in crises but added AB200 is too vague.

Galloway said the measure doesn’t clearly define disasters and emergencies and the time frames for protecting the medical professionals from lawsuit in such cases.

Galloway said clarity is needed when immunity is granted to someone and someone else is losing the right to go to court.

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