This article is written by Nishka Kamath. It throws light upon the Good Samaritan Laws in the United States along with their history, purpose, objectives, features, and ground rules, inter alia. It also explains the concept of Bad Samaritan Laws and has a discrete state-wise description of several Good Samaritan Laws in the US.
It has been published by Rachit Garg.
Imagine you are out for a walk at your local park on a nice sunny evening with your dog and suddenly a person gets a heart stroke and falls right in front of you and hits their head on the sidewalk. What will you do?
Will you be hesitant to help in the fear of getting prosecuted in case something goes wrong, or will you help the person readily?
Unfortunately, in this era of litigation, many individuals have concerns about getting entangled in legal complications. Isn’t that a pity? Wouldn’t you rather save someone’s life instead of standing there spectating the view in the fear of the person in distress or their family prosecuting you afterwards?
Don’t worry, the Good Samaritan Law has got you covered. It is a law formulated to safeguard bystanders who volunteer to help an injured individual who is either in peril or wounded, or ill otherwise. Say for instance, if Mr. A performs a CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) on an individual, say, Mr. B, who is unconscious with an attempt to revive them, but such an act leads to further injury, in such cases Mr. A will have some level of exemption from civil liability. Good Samaritan Laws were enacted in order to encourage people to get involved in such tragic circumstances without the fear of being sued in case their act accidentally results in causing harm or injury to that person or even death.
Let’s have a brief overview of what exactly this law says and all the legal subjects associated with it.
Good Samaritan Law
The term ‘Good Samaritan Law’ refers to a kind of liability protection for individuals who come forward to assist somebody encountering a sudden injury or illness. However, it is only applicable to passersby who are simply doing it out of the goodness of their heart and does not involve individuals who are operating in a paid, professional capacity; for instance, an emergency service professional answering a call.
An example of Good Samaritan Law
Say you are performing your daily chores at your office and a colleague of yours collapses on the floor and goes into cardiac arrest. Your office has an external defibrillator (AED machine) that you can use to try and restart the heart of your colleague, but you are reluctant to do so as you are not professionally trained for such actions. So, after a few moments of pauses, you arrive at an outcome that using the machine is the best opportunity to save the colleague’s life and, thus, use it on him.
In this case, irrespective of the effect, you are immune to safety by your state’s Good Samaritan Law since you performed this activity with the best of your intent and capacity.
Why does Good Samaritan Law exist
The main motto of Good Samaritan Law is to motivate individuals to step in and assist in cases when such an act can save a life.
But sometimes, it is not enough to call for an emergency (911) and potter around waiting for the emergency professionals to come. Such professionals may, at times, take 8 to 15 minutes to reach the site and in certain circumstances, they might even take half an hour to arrive on the scene.
This is where the Good Samaritan Law comes into play. It gives people the confidence that they can aid the ailing person without having to bother about legal retaliation.
Good Samaritan Law under different ordinances
As per the common law, a passerby is not morally compelled to assist any injured person, provided the injury was not caused by them. In Hurley v. Springfield (1901), the defendant was a family physician who for no reasonable reason, declined to render medical aid to the patient, even when he was notified that he was the only one to provide assistance. Here, the Court occurred to the conclusion that the defendant was not accountable, as he did not assume any duty to serve.
Nevertheless, a Good Samaritan who has no duty to do so takes responsibility for a person in need, the Good Samaritan is presumed to have a reasonable duty of care while the injured person is in their charge. Similarly, if a Good Samaritan has taken charge, they are accountable for a duty of reasonable care to avoid imposing more harm to the person and thus putting him in a worse position than before the Good Samaritan took responsibility.
Under criminal law, there is no legal duty created or established upon a sheer moral obligation. A legal duty to act requires more than being a Good Samaritan.
In People v. Beardsley (1907), the defendant had an affair with a woman at his apartment, wherein, the woman after consuming morphine lost her life. The Court ultimately held that there was no duty to act on the defendant’s part as there were no special relations between the defendant and the woman. In order for the defendant to be held responsible, there must be a duty imposed either by law or by contract, and the error in performing the duty must be the sudden and direct factor that causes death.
Good Samaritan Laws provide civil immunity for a person who gives help and assists an injured person. Usually, such laws provide protection to a person whose aid or act is not reckless or negligent and who renders such aid without being compensated for it.
Samaritan Law in the US
As asserted above, Good Samaritan Laws protect caregivers from being sued for medical errors, as long as the caregivers acted in a voluntary manner without any intentions of getting rewarded for such a deed.
However, in the United States, the protection that Good Samaritan Laws provide is not unlimited and varies from state to state, which will be discussed further in brief.
History and why were Good Samaritan Laws enacted
The title of the ‘Good Samaritan’ originates from the Bible from an occurrence wherein Jesus Christ confided in his followers how an injured person can be treated via a short moral story, commonly known as the ‘parable.’ They were named after the parable told in Luke 10:25-37 of the Bible. This story is recognized as the ‘Parable of the Good Samaritan.’ The Bible verses narrate the story of how service was provided by a traveller from Samaria to another traveller of a distinct religious and ethnic belief who had been beaten and looted by robbers.
Enacted to safeguard doctors
The Good Samaritan Laws were originally enacted for the protection of physicians and others with medical training. Gradually, the verdicts of the courts and amends in the laws led to the inculcation of unskilled rescuers who provide help.
There are certain laws that, to date, safeguard only medically trained rescuers, whereas other laws extend protection to any Good Samaritan Laws.
Inclusion of all
Previously, the law was ratified keeping in mind only the medicinal professionals, but with the advancement of laws and changes in the legal system, the law now includes everyone else.
The main purpose of the Good Samaritan Law is to motivate individuals to perform a certain action when they find themselves in a position of passerby during an accident. The law encourages the quality of being selfless in each individual.
The main result of such a purpose is to aim to enable a better society, wherein people act on their instincts to help others without any reluctance or fear.
Another goal of the Samaritan law is to provide aid in matters of a drug overdose. Earlier, drug overdoses were on the rise, which is why Good Samaritan Laws were enacted as a medium to curtail the number of overdoses by encouraging victims, friends, and family to seek help at the time of emergency, calling 911, knowing that they are safe from being prosecuted.
Individuals who act in an unselfish manner should be glorified in society. By having Good Samaritan Law in place we empower them with immunity, thus making our world a better place to live. So, when asked ‘What exactly is the purpose of Samaritan laws?’, the simple response would be to make our society a better place to stay.
Objectives of Good Samaritan Laws
The Good Samaritan Law was implemented keeping the following objectives in mind:
- To safeguard god Samaritans from legal and other complications.
- To shield the Good Samaritans from being vexed by the police officials.
- To support passersby by giving timely medical help or any other support within the golden hour.
- To remove any fearfulness of legal intervention, payment of fees, harassment by the police, imprisonment, court apparatuses, etc.
Features of Good Samaritan Laws
The main features of the Good Samaritan Laws are as follows:
- The Good Samaritan need not appear in the courts at regular intervals.
- They need not have to appear at the police station time and again.
- The Good Samaritans are not obligated to pay the charges in cases where they are mandated to visit the police station or court. Such expenses should be covered by the ‘Good Samaritan Funds,’ if the law of the state has such provisions.
- Those that assist the injured person must be enlightened about their rights and the provisions created for them.
Ground rules for Good Samaritan Laws
The universal ground rules for Good Samaritan Laws are as follows:
- The individual must act with bona fide intentions.
- They must not be reckless or lenient.
- They must act as a careful and sound person and must have the ability to make sound judgements.
- They must only render help which is within the ambit of their training.
- The injured person must not be left behind by the individual who is taking care of him.
- No reward of any sort should be accepted in return for the services rendered.
Four Key elements in Good Samaritan Laws
Even in emergencies, it is necessary to obtain consent from the person in distress. Touching a person who has denied accepting any treatment can result in assault and battery charges being levied upon them.
The four key elements of Good Samaritan Laws are as follows:
- The permission of an ill or injured individual must be obtained in cases where it is possible.
- Care must always be given carefully. The caregiver/bystander must not act frantically.
- Another element to be considered is that the bystander is not the person who has caused the mishap.
- The last crucial point that must be considered is that the help given was in an emergency condition and the medical aid was yet to reach the place of emergency.
Important provisions of Good Samaritan Laws
Before helping out the injured person or the individual in distress, it is of utmost necessity that consent must be obtained. The procedure for obtaining consent is quite easy and can be attained in only a few seconds.
Steps to obtain consent
- Tell the injured person your name.
- Inform them that you have training in assisting in First Aid and/or CPR.
- Ask the injured individual if he/she needs aid.
- Once they reply in affiliation, begin the care procedure.
Please note: If the injured person is a minor, consent must be taken from the parent(s) or the guardian(s); however, in case of their absence, the situation must be considered to be that of implied consent (discussed below).
Vital subject under consent
There are certain situations where the consent of the victim cannot be obtained verbally. For example, if the victim is extremely ill or awfully confused or unconscious, it is nearly impossible to obtain verbal permission. So, in situations where the law assumes that the victim(s) would most likely give consent if they could, medical aid can be rendered without obtaining vocal consent. This is known as implied consent.
Duty to act
Depending upon the state laws, most licensed and/or certified medical professionals, medical personnel, public safety officers, and medically trained government employees have a “duty to act” while they are on duty or completing an assigned task.
If an individual rendering aid is a government employee but is not on duty at the time of the accident, then in such cases, the same individual would be protected as a passerby who has chosen to provide aid under the Good Samaritan Laws.
Good Samaritan Law and minors
For most of the states in the United States, the same immunity is applicable when an individual comes forward to assist someone under 18 years of age. It has one significant distinction which is that an individual must seek the consent of the parent(s) or guardian(s) of the minor if they are accessible.
Further, if the parents or guardians are not available and an instantaneous intervention is needed, then in such cases, the individual coming to the rescue will be immune by implied consent (discussed above).
Good Samaritan Law and drug overdose
In recent years, a distinct type of Good Samaritan Law has emerged, and it aims at motivating individuals to ask for assistance during a drug overdose. Such a law is also referred to as a “911 Samaritan law” or a “drug overdose immunity law.”
Presently, 40 states and the District of Columbia have this type of law on the books. However, the following states do not offer this type of explicit immunity yet:
- South Carolina,
- Texas, and
Protection under the Good Samaritan Law
There are chances that Good Samaritan Laws may or may not provide immunity to an individual attempting a rescue. In a case in California, a woman pulled a co-worker from a car which caused the victim a permanent spinal injury. The woman attempting the rescue was held accountable for such an injury. This is why one must be aware of the Good Samaritan Laws in their state.
In cases of unexpected emergencies, it will be difficult or nearly impossible to research the nuances of state law and deduce the pros and cons of taking action. So, if you do not know how to help, the most important thing to do is to call out for help and call 911.
But if you have the knowledge to help the individual in distress and you have the ability to take action calmly and in a responsible manner, you will be protected from civil liability and you might even save a life!
Are AED operators protected under the Good Samaritan Laws
If you are operating an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) on behalf of your home, business, or public facility, and you are expected to use the device in an emergency, your level of immunity will depend upon your training and the laws in your state.
Usage of AED at home
If the device is being used at home or outside the professional capacity or in any place where the law does not hold the Good Samaritan responsible for the safety of others, he/she may be protected by Good Samaritan Laws.
Usage of AED in an official capacity
If an individual is acting in an official capacity, for instance, if an AED is being used because the individual is required to maintain AED/COR training and administer treatment while at work, the individual may not be immune to civil liability.
Exceptions in the case of AED operators
There are several exceptions to the operation of an AED. Though it all depends on the states; some states explicitly provide immunity to all AED operators.
For instance, the law of Illinois under § 745 ILCS 49/12 states that “any automated external defibrillator user who in good faith and without fee or compensation renders emergency medical care involving the use of an automated external defibrillator by his or her training is not liable for any civil damages as a result of any act or omission, except for willful and wanton misconduct, by that person in rendering that care.”
The following states have similar immunities:
- New York,
- South Dakota,
- Virginia, and
Protection of physicians for providing medical aid in airspace
In cases where a medically skilled individual renders his aid while flying in a commercial aeroplane which is registered in the United States, they will be immune from any prosecution or legal complications and will not be held liable for damages unless they are guilty of gross negligence.
It is, however, important that the medical practitioner does not receive any financial benefit. Nonetheless, seat upgrades, credits for travel miles or travel vouchers do not amount to financial benefit and should be viewed as a token of gratitude instead.
Good Samaritan Law : state-wise description
All 50 states in the US have Good Samaritan Laws. These laws differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, such as who the law safeguards and the circumstances in which individuals must provide their assistance.
A note must be taken that some states get incredibly specific about the type of training required (be it Red Cross training, American Heart Association training, or even intermediate medical training) to be capable of being a rescuer for having this type of protection.
Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.
For instance, the following states protect anyone who attempts to volunteer at the time of an emergency:
- Pennsylvania, and
Minnesota, Rhode Island, and Vermont
In Minnesota, Rhode Island, and Vermont, there are “failure-to-act” laws, which means every individual or bystander has the legal obligation to provide aid in dire or emergency situations.
In Minnesota, failing to provide reasonable assistance could be a crime or misdemeanour and a fine up to $300.
In Rhode Island, there is an explicit law to provide immunity to Good Samaritans in cases related to anaphylactic shock care.
California and New York
A majority of states, including California and New York, safeguard its citizens who are acting with bona fide intentions and not to receive any financial benefits.
Kansas and Missouri
In states like Kansas and Missouri, only skilled professional healthcare workers are immune from civil liability and not the general public.
In Alabama, the laws only require skilled rescuers and public education employees unless the emergency is cardiac arrest. If the emergency is cardiac arrest, then the Alabama law provides immunity for every individual who renders aid in such situations.
In the state of Oklahoma, the legislation only safeguards individuals or passersby who have helped in CPR or in controlling bleeding.
In Utah, there is no inclusion of liability for failure to attain consent like that in other states.
In Texas, any individual who is not licensed or certified to provide medical aid and acts in good faith to regulate an emergency situation will not be held accountable for civil damages for providing aid. It is one of the most simple and Good Samaritan coverage statutes. This section is applicable to all situations, irrespective of whether the care is provided for or with the intent to receive remuneration.
There is one Good Samaritan Law that has been adopted at the federal level. The 1998 Aviation Medical Assistance Act (AMAA) provides immunity to healthcare workers who volunteer to help patients while in flight. However, this law does not apply to laypeople.
The state-wise detailed description of Good Samaritan Laws can be accessed here.
Limitations of Good Samaritan Laws
Good Samaritan Law is relevant only in circumstances when the passerby lends reasonable assistance to the individual in distress. This term is somewhat vague, but most US states follow a general Good Samaritan principle to ascertain whether a rescuer or an attempted rescuer, has immunity under the legislation. The core beliefs of a Good Samaritan principle are as under:
- The care offered was implemented in direct response to an accident/emergency.
- The injury was not caused by the care provider.
- The care provider did not act in an absurd or negligent manner.
- The care provider did not have the duty to treat.
Please note: “Duty to treat” means that the care provider already has a pre-existing obligation to render aid. This could be because they are being generated to respond to an emergency (EMTs, physicians, etc.) or because they are expected by law to dispense care in a certain situation.
Another crucial consideration is “What constitutes gross negligence?” Gross negligence is usually elucidated to be a failure to act with the same level of competence and care that a normal individual of sound mind would have exhibited in similar situations. So, say, if an individual turns on an AED and adheres to the vocal directions to the best of his/her calibre, the individual has acted with a rational level of care. Although, if an individual frantically jumps on the injured person’s chest and breaks one of his ribs because he has no clue how to perform CPR, this could be considered negligence.
It is also crucial to take into account that Good Samaritan Laws do not protect professionally trained healthcare workers who are working in a professional capacity. In simple words, a paramedic may still be held accountable for the consequences of his actions wherein he treated a patient at the scene of an emergency, but this usually depends on the laws of each state.
Bad Samaritan Laws
Some legislations have pushed for so-called “Bad Samaritan Laws” and have imposed a duty upon individuals to act in cases of emergencies.
A Good Samaritan Law shields people who act on their violation; a bad Samaritan law holds people responsible for not providing aid at the time of an emergency. This law is also referred to as the “duty to rescue” law at times.
Presently, only 3 states have this type of law on the books, namely:
- Rhode Island, and
Whereas, three other states, namely:
- Washington, and
have laws wanting bystanders to at least call 911 in cases of medical emergencies.
Way forward and developments in Good Samaritan Laws
Several states have begun to carry out amendments to their Good Samaritan Laws in order to accommodate protection from criminal prosecution for individuals providing aid in circumstances where illicit activities or substances like alcohol or drugs are involved.
For instance, if there is an accident involving a car with several passengers who are teenagers and the car has met with an accident because the underage driver was driving under the influence of alcohol; in such a case, the other teenagers must not fear being prosecuted and must fall for aid either from the police or rescue workers or both without any worry of being sued. Such type of immunity will also protect individuals consuming illegal drugs and make a 911 call for others who have overdosed and rapid aid.
The states that already have Good Samaritan Laws with the aforementioned immunity are as follows:
- New York,
- New Mexico,
- Massachusetts, and
Further, the states that are thinking of passing such an amendment to the prevailing Good Samaritan Laws are as follows:
- New Hampshire,
- Vermont, and
- New Jersey.
All the US states must consider bringing such amends to safeguard and immunise the Good Samaritans.
Even if the fundamental objective of Good Samaritan Law is apparent, the application of the laws in the real-world scenario can be quite distinct.
Good Samaritan Laws will not constantly deter someone from filing a lawsuit, but when an individual understands what is allowed and what is forbidden, it is less likely that he/she will be prosecuted, as it is difficult for the other party in the case to win.
If you are an individual who would halt and try to help any individual at the time of emergency, make sure you understand and are well aware of the Good Samaritan Laws in your area of residence.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
What does the Good Samaritan Law cover?
The Good Samaritan Law is a law which gives immunity to any volunteer who has offered to give aid to an injured person in a situation of plight. The Good Samaritan Law extends lawful protection in the form of impunity from lawsuits and liability, thus, acting as a safeguard to those who help another in a real emergency or a life-death situation.
Who is not protected by the Good Samaritan Law?
The laws usually do not provide immunity to an individual who renders care, advice, or service in a consciously lenient or irrational manner.
Is the Good Samaritan Law real?
Yes, Good Samaritan Laws exist in both the United States and Canada, but the laws are inconsistent throughout the states.
Is there a Good Samaritan Law in all States?
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have some type of Good Samaritan Law. However, the laws can differ from one state to another. A more must be taken that, the majority of US states including California and New York safeguard all citizens who are acting with bona fide intent and without any expectancy of economic gains.
What are the duties or responsibilities of a nurse when acting under Good Samaritan Laws?
A licensed nurse who, with bona fide intentions, renders emergency aid at the place of emergency that arises outside her position of work will not be held lawfully liable for acting or failing to act. However, they can be held legally accountable for acting without reasonable care.
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