Anyone who steps up in a time of need to provide aid is a good samaritan. But what happens after the aid has been rendered? If the outcome from providing aid isn’t a positive one, or if anything goes wrong along the way, is the rescuer liable for his or her actions? That’s where the Good Samaritan Act comes in.
The Good Samaritan Act protects individuals who step in to provide assistance during an emergency from liability. And while each state has its own laws, fundamentally, if you act in good faith, a victim or his or her family can not hold you liable for any potential harm that occurs as a result of your help.
Read on to find out who the Good Samaritan Act protects, when it applies, and other unique situations that are shielded by this important legal protection.
History of the Good Samaritan Act
Although the origin of Good Samaritan laws is up for debate, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) traces its roots to an ancient biblical parable. Over the centuries, a good samaritan has come to mean someone who steps in to provide aid, “without prior notion or responsibility or promise of compensation,” according to the NLM.
Unfortunately, outcomes aren’t always positive — especially in emergency situations — so the Good Samaritan Act protects those who try to help from facing repercussions should things go wrong. In other words, a bystander who renders aid cannot be sued or prosecuted for any damage that may have occurred during their attempt to help.
The Good Samaritan Act’s primary purpose is to encourage people to act without fear of legal repercussions. All 50 states have some type of Good Samaritan law.
Defining a Good Samaritan
Fundamentally, the Good Samaritan Act is consistent across the board, but each state has its own specific guidelines for how it is applied.
For example, some states only offer protection to those who perform CPR or use an automated external defibrillator (AED), while others also protect individuals who administer naloxone to someone experiencing an opioid overdose. That said, there are some general guidelines that qualify a person as a good samaritan:
- The bystander acted in good faith
- He or she made reasonable decisions
- The victim was in imminent danger
- The victim did not object to assistance
- The bystander didn’t purposely or knowingly injure the victim further
It’s important to understand your state’s specific regulations to ensure you’re protected under the Good Samaritan Act.
Good Samaritan Exceptions
Just like every state has its own interpretation of the Good Samaritan Act,there are some exceptions to the law that are important to be aware of.
If the person rendering aid is grossly negligent, for example, he or she may not be protected by the act. According to Cornell Law School, gross negligence is “a lack of care that demonstrates reckless disregard for the safety or lives of others [… and] appears to be a conscious violation of other people’s rights to safety.” Here are three other exceptions.
Staying Within Training & Experience
While gross negligence is a common misconception about the limitations of the Good Samaritan Act, most state laws expressly state that when helping in an emergency you do not exceed your level of training and experience.
For the average citizen, this might be to stay to simplified chest compressions or perhaps full CPR, whereas a doctor or surgeon may be trained to provide a tracheotomy in an emergency. Should an average citizen attempt to provide a tracheotomy in an emergency that harms the victim, he or she would likely be liable for the outcome.
Off-Duty Medically Trained Professionals
As with other areas of law, each state will dictate the specific situations in which a doctor or other medically trained professional would be covered by the Good Samaritan Act. Generally speaking, it does protect off-duty professionals when they currently have no legal obligation or duty to treat. This duty to treat exists on the job and in places like hospitals.
Once doctors, nurses, and other medically trained professionals leave work, they become laypeople who have similar expectations of any other citizen; however, the boundary of not providing care that goes beyond the professional’s training and experience still exists.
Even in an emergency, a victim must still give consent to a potential rescuer to accept the aid being offered. Should the rescuer fail to ask for consent or ignore the wishes of a victim declining help, the rescuer could potentially face assault or other criminal charges.
Naturally, there are exceptions where consent is implied in the event that the victim is unconscious or otherwise unable to respond to an offer to provide aid.
Positive Effects of the Good Samaritan Act
The implementation of the Good Samaritan Act across the country has led to a significant increase in survivability for victims of cardiac arrest. As more laypersons receive quality CPR training and are empowered to take action, the reliance on first responders to be the sole resource of life-saving measures will decrease.
For persons experiencing cardiac arrest, the effects of a breakdown of cardiac and respiratory function occur quickly. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, CPR can double or triple a person’s chance of survival following cardiac arrest if it’s performed in the first few minutes.
The sudden onset and significance of these quickly compounding risk factors give even more reason to encourage laypersons to act quickly to render aid in the event of an emergency. With the ever-growing availability of quality CPR training and AED devices in the public space, the survivability rates in the event of an emergency have risen dramatically.
Critics of the law argue that it may lead to unqualified individuals providing medical care, which could potentially cause more harm than good. That said, the International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation continually updates its guidelines and confirms the belief that the benefits of a rapid response and intervention far outweigh the potential risks.
Other Applications of the Good Samaritan Act
The Good Samaritan Act also applies to non-emergency situations that most people aren’t aware of. In fact, the Agriculture Act of 2018 made a specific effort to raise the awareness of the protections afforded under the Good Samaritan Act.
The Agriculture Act applies to those who make charitable contributions of food to nonprofit organizations. In other words, a person who donates food that has been processed and packaged correctly and is not obviously damaged or otherwise tainted wouldn’t be responsible for any damages or effects of the goods upon the recipients of the donations.
The act does specify that this does only cover donations to charitable groups, such as 501(c)3 organizations and expands from individuals to cover groups of persons such as restaurants, catering businesses, or other groups who may have the opportunity to donate food to organizations that work to connect those in need with resources.
The Good Samaritan Act has existed in some capacity for many years; however, today’s legal protections are essential assurances in times of need. The protections afforded to the good samaritans who bravely step up in emergencies offers further encouragement by removing the fear of being liable if their efforts result in unintended consequences.
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