Connecticut judiciary committee approves immunity for doctors who help SWAT teams [Hartford Courant]

April 6, 2022

From the Hartford Courant:


A key legislative committee voted unanimously Monday to offer immunity from civil liability for certain medical doctors who help heavily armed police in dangerous situations. The judiciary committee voted 39-0 for a bill that has been debated for years but has never been approved by the full legislature.


Sen. Rob Sampson, a Wolcott Republican who is the measure’s chief proponent, said some doctors have been discouraged from helping police because they are concerned about potential lawsuits.


“This is going to make them sleep easier at night,’’ Sampson said Monday to his colleagues.


Police have testified that traditional ambulance companies do not want to enter a dangerous scene until it has been declared as safe — often delaying medical aid to police officers and suspects who have been injured. The volunteer doctors are able to move more quickly to the victims and provide help before they are taken to the hospital.


For years, the influential Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association, represented by the Gaffney Bennett lobbying firm, has repeatedly opposed the bill, saying that the measure was unnecessary because the state’s Good Samaritan laws are already sufficient.


“Connecticut’s Good Samaritan law is meant to keep people from being reluctant to help a stranger in need for fear of legal repercussions should they make some mistake in treatment,’’ said recent testimony presented by lobbyist Jeffrey “Zeke’’ Zyjeski of Gaffney Bennett. “A physician volunteering to help a SWAT team certainly falls currently under that law. … Immunity laws like this that are redundant and unnecessary are bad policy, and CTLA opposes its enactment.’’


But Sampson testified this year that, “This bill is borne out of an introduction to a commendable doctor that has volunteered his services with federal, state, and municipal law enforcement despite being exposed to civil liability. I believe that if a doctor is willing to sacrifice his or her free time and safety to aid our law enforcement personnel in the line of duty, we can provide a legal safeguard in return.’’


In its final meeting before a 5 p.m. committee deadline Monday for bills in the 2022 short session, the committee did not vote on several measures on its agenda.
Lawmakers did not vote on a bill designed to crack down on the sale of stolen catalytic converters from automobiles because the public safety committee already approved a separate bill on the same topic.


That bills calls for prohibiting junkyards and motor vehicle recyclers from receiving a catalytic converter that is not attached to a vehicle. The move is designed to stop criminals from cutting converters off cars and bringing them to junkyards in return for cash.


Both Republicans and Democrats say the thefts are a growing problem in towns around the state as thieves sell the converters for hundreds of dollars. The items are valuable because they contain precious metals that include platinum, rhodium, and palladium.


The committee also did not vote on any gun bills whether they were supported by either Republicans or Democrats. The legislature is facing adjournment on May 4 for the regular session.


“I think the realization was that we are in a short legislative session with 30 days to go here,’’ Rep. Steven J. Stafstrom, a Bridgeport Democrat who co-chairs the committee, told the Courant. “There really wasn’t time to get major gun legislation through this committee, likely the appropriations committee, and through two chambers in 30 days. I think that was the concern.’’
Stafstrom added, “Our theme this year as a committee was to try to reach bipartisan compromise where we could. Certainly, gun legislation is not an area where we could reach bipartisan compromise. … Given the opposition we were going to face, it was unlikely there was going to be the time to have drawn out, lengthy debates on those pieces of legislation in order to get them across the finish line. … I suspect we will be back with a robust list of gun-safety proposals next year when it is a long session, but we ran out of clock this year.’