The Montana Supreme Court has absolved a former Wyoming doctor of blame for his treatment of a Utah woman who was injured in an accident at West Yellowstone six years ago.
The 4-1 ruling upheld a lower-court decision that dismissed the lawsuit filed against Dr. John Batson by Karen McCain.The justices agreed that Batson, now practicing in Bountiful, Utah, was protected by Montana's "good samaritan" law, which provides immunity for a person "who in good faith renders emergency care or assistance without compensation at the scene of an emergency or accident."
The protection does not apply in instances of gross negligence.
Such was the not the case with Batson's treatment of McCain, the court said.
McCain injured her leg when she fell in an excavation hole near West Yellowstone while walking at night. Batson, who also was visiting the area, was located three hours later and asked to treat the wound.
After doing so, he told McCain that his work was only a first-aid procedure and that she should seek treatment at a hospital.
But McCain did not have the wound treated until a week later when it had become infected and required surgery, court records showed.
She waited three years before suing Batson, arguing that Batson was negligent in his treatment and he was not protected by the "good samaritan" law because his aid occurred so long after McCain's accident that there was no emergency.
The Supreme Court concluded an emergency did exist. "Here Dr. Batson rendered temporary first-aid with limited medical equipment having been awakened early in the morning," wrote Justice John Harrison.
And, since Batson was considered a good samaritan under the law, his treatment would have had to be grossly negligent for him to be liable, the court said. McCain failed to prove such negligence, the majority ruled.
"We are willing to look at the facts presented and not force a defendant to go through a prolonged, expensive and emotionally debilitating trial for such well-intended and medically accepted deeds as Dr. Batson performed," Harrison said.
Chief Justice Jean Turnage and justices William Hunt and L.C. Gulbrandson sided with Harrison.
Justice John Sheehy was the lone dissenter, saying questions over whether an emergency or gross negligence existed are for a jury to decide.
"If Karen McCain has sustained serious and permanent damages to her leg because Dr. Batson . . . over-treated her, she is entitled to have her case heard in court, even though Dr. Batson acted from the best of impulses," Sheehy said.