Q: I’m an internist. I have been asked by my pastor to be the doctor for a youth (8 – 12) boxing match held through the church’s after-school sports program. I would do the pre-match physicals and observe the matches and stop them if necessary and give emergency treatment if required. Since it would just be purely on a volunteer basis would I be covered by a Good Samaritan law? 

Dr. MedLaw: You would not be.

Even though a voluntary and uncompensated status when care is given is required for a Good Samaritan law to apply, just being an unpaid volunteer does not invoke that protection.

This goes to the rationale for the law: we want medical practitioners who are not under a duty to attend to an injured or ill person in an emergency to be willing to do so, so we raise the standard for liability to apply.

Signing up to be a doctor for a sporting event, though, means taking on binding duties from the start.

To begin with, the initial assessment as to whether a child can even participate establishes a doctor-patient relationship for that examination.  Even if the church, as the sponsor, gets releases from the parents that they understand that an ongoing relationship is not thereby established you will still be under a duty of care for the evaluation that you do perform and so will be liable for what you miss or misinterpret in that setting.

At the actual match, you will then have a duty to each participating child that derives from your agreement with the church to act in the capacity of a supervising and treating physician.

This is different than if you just happened to be at the match as a spectator or were working in another capacity, such as running the concession stand.  In that situation, if a child was injured and you ran forward to help as best you could while EMS was called you would be under the protection of a Good Samaritan law.  Here, though, you would be the assigned doctor, specifically there to act in such a situation and so not the uninvolved practitioner the law wants to induce to step in.

You should also, then, take into account that your liability risk in this setting is a serious one because you will be held to the standards of a pediatrician because that is the role that you are taking on. If, as a specialist in adult medicine, you are not prepared to detect a subtle pediatric cardiac issue on a pre-match physical or to give appropriate emergency care to a child with a cervical injury then offer your apologies to the pastor and decline, citing the fact that you honestly do not believe that you can provide adequate medical safety to the children.

If you nevertheless decide to go ahead then you must inform your malpractice carrier that you will be engaging in this activity and determine if you will be covered, possibly with an additional rider. If not, then the church, as the match sponsor, must indemnify you.  Remember that the church, in its role as the sponsor of an event that can cause medical harm, wants you there to decrease its own potential liability, and in that setting it should cover you for yours.