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Student’s good Samaritan act leads to coronial inquest appearance

Avant media

Sunday, 26 March 2023

Blurred image of trains going past station

Paul Gilhooly was a 29 year-old medical student completing a placement in a regional hospital. He was travelling on an overnight train to work when he found himself called upon to act as a good Samaritan.

During the journey, a fellow passenger’s behaviour became increasingly erratic and he appeared agitated. The train staff found a soft drink bottle that smelt of spirits near his seat. The passenger was told it was unlawful to drink his own alcohol and he would have to leave the train. He refused, so the train staff decided to remove him from the train at the next stop and called police for assistance.

Three train staff physically removed the passenger from the train. Once on the platform, he was restrained face-down by two of the staff and was heard to say, “I can’t breathe properly.” After being restrained for about 10 minutes, he started “huffing and puffing” then became unconscious and unresponsive so the train staff placed him in the recovery position and called the ambulance.

Recalling the experience, Dr Gilhooly said, “no one was doing anything. Everyone was just standing around and watching, so I thought as a fellow human being and medical student with the skills and experience, I needed to assist the police”.

Two police officers and Dr Gilhooly provided CPR until the ambulance arrived and the passenger was transported to hospital, where he was sadly pronounced dead.

Avant supports member through investigation

“The police took my details at the time of the incident and given the outcome, I called Avant’s Medico-legal Advisory Service (MLAS) the next day to notify Avant of the incident and to seek advice,” he says.

Avant’s senior medico-legal adviser was able to provide general advice to Dr Gilhooly immediately. This included:

  • the incident could be regarded as a death in custody and the matter may be referred to the coroner
  • the police will require a written statement and this request should come from them in writing
  • the police and the coroner may ask for medical information regarding the passenger.

Avant instructed solicitors to assist Dr Gilhooly to prepare a written statement to the police, who were assisting the coroner, in relation to the investigation surrounding the passenger’s death.

Dr Gilhooly was asked to give evidence at the coronial inquest. We supported Dr Gilhooly over a two-year period by providing legal expertise, and a point of contact for the coroner’s court. We also assisted Dr Gilhooly in preparing for the inquest and briefed a lawyer who presented evidence on his behalf.

While admitting to being apprehensive in the lead up to the inquest, Dr Gilhooly says Avant’s support and reassurance made the process easier.

“Avant provided fantastic support and assistance from the time of the incident and right throughout the inquest. I couldn’t fault anything – it was beyond what I was expecting,” he says.

Coroner’s findings

In handing down the findings, the coroner found that on the balance of probabilities, the passenger’s death resulted from a combination of factors. These included methylamphetamine toxicity and physiological stress and subsequent cardiac arrhythmia due to forcible restraint by train staff.

The coroner made recommendations to the Minister for Police and the Minister for Transport regarding protocols when assistance is requested for passengers.

Good Samaritan act acknowledged

Despite the tragic outcome, at the end of the inquest, the passenger’s father personally acknowledged Dr Gilhooly for his efforts to save their child’s life.

“I’ll never forget the moment when the passenger’s father approached me at the inquest and thanked me for the help I provided that day. Although it was a tragic outcome, I was taken aback when the family thanked me” Dr Gilhooly said.

Advice for medical students

Dr Gilhooly said the experience had made him grow as a doctor. “Tragedies and emergencies can happen anywhere”, he said. “As a good Samaritan with medical training, it’s important to step up and offer assistance to people when they are vulnerable. I have learnt that despite what might be going on in the background, the families and the public acknowledge and appreciate your efforts".

For medical students who may find themselves in a similar situation, Dr Gilhooly reiterated having the courage to step in as a good Samaritan as it could make all the difference.

“Have the courage to step in and help, and don’t be afraid,” he said.

As a medical student, you may think you are not qualified or experienced enough to provide assistance in emergency situations. However, students are often trained in basic life support, and you may be the best medically qualified person available.

In Australia, medical students and medical practitioners have a professional obligation to offer assistance in an emergency. For those in New South Wales and the Northern Territory, there is specific legislative requirements that apply to assisting in emergencies. See Avant’s factsheet Good Samaritans – assisting in an emergency, for more information.

The Medical Board’s Code of Conduct (section 3.5) states that if you are offering assistance in an emergency, you should take into account “your own safety, your skills, the availability of other options and the impact on any other patients under your care”. The Code of Conduct also requires you continue to assist until no longer required.

Laws throughout Australia provide protection from personal civil liability, as long as care is given in good faith and with no expectation of payment or other reward. That legal protection may not apply if you are intoxicated, as outlined in Appendix 2 in Avant’s factsheet.

For more information or immediate medico-legal advice, call us on 1800 128 268, 24/7 in emergencies.

Know your cover

Your Student Indemnity Insurance Policy covers you, subject to its terms and conditions, for any claims that may arise in relation to you providing care as a good Samaritan. It also extends to good Samaritan acts worldwide.

Disclaimers

IMPORTANT: This article is not comprehensive and does not constitute legal or medical advice. You should seek legal or other professional advice before relying on its content, and practise proper clinical decision making with regard to the individual circumstances. Persons implementing any recommendations contained in this article must exercise their own independent skill or judgement or seek appropriate professional advice relevant to their own particular practice. Compliance with any recommendations will not in any way guarantee discharge of the duty of care owed to patients and others coming into contact with the health professional or practice. Avant is not responsible to you or anyone else for any loss suffered in connection with the use of this information. Information is only current at the date initially published. © Avant Mutual Group Limited 2023

Professional indemnity insurance products are issued by Avant Insurance Limited, ABN 82 003 707 471, AFSL 238 765. Please read the relevant Product Disclosure Statement or policy wording, available at https://avant.org.au/student-indemnity-insurance-policy before deciding whether to acquire, or continue to hold the product.

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