RICHARD F. SILBER, PLLC
Good Samaritan Laws: Should I help a stranger in need of medical attention?
Sometimes, individuals are in need of urgent medical attention. There aren’t always trained professionals around to help. Ordinary citizens who see someone in distress could be afraid to help, for fear that they may be held liable for doing something wrong. Good Samaritan laws originated to avoid that scenario.
As a result, many states have enacted “Good Samaritan” laws that protect people who come to the assistance of others from legal responsibility. Good Samaritan laws in general provide that a person who sees another person in imminent danger, and tries to rescue the injured party, can’t be charged with negligence if the rescue attempt does not go well.
Good Samaritan laws are intended to encourage people to assist others by removing the fear of legal responsibility for damage done by the rescue attempt. For example, a Good Samaritan may see an overturned car beside the road, and discover the driver is trapped. If the Good Samaritan pulls the trapped driver out of the car, he or she may exacerbate the driver’s injuries. If the driver suffers a spinal injury while being pulled out of the car, he or she cannot later sue the Good Samaritan for negligence under the Good Samaritan law of his or her state.
In general, in order to use the Good Samaritan law as a defense to negligence, there are four elements that must be met. First, any assistance provided must be given as a result of an emergency. Second, the emergency that necessitated the care can’t be caused by the Good Samaritan. Third, the emergency services provided by the Good Samaritan can’t be given in a grossly negligent manner. Finally, if it’s possible to obtain permission from the accident victim, the victim must have given permission for the rescue. This may involve calming the person down before asking if he or she needs assistance. One extra requirement in some states is that the aid rendered must be free – if a doctor renders aid and sends a victim a bill later, the doctor could lose protection under the Good Samaritan law.
Currently, all 50 states plus the District of Columbia have some form of Good Samaritan law. There are many variations on the laws from state to state. Some states have different standards for emergency first responders, and some Good Samaritan laws limit who can provide medical assistance to someone in need. Also, most states providing Good Samaritan protections require that the medical care take place outside a hospital or other medical facility – so if a person goes into distress inside a hospital, and a professional renders aid, that person can be held liable if the aid is rendered negligently.
Another type of Good Samaritan law actually requires people to call 911 in some situations - usually if you cause an accident and someone is hurt, or if you happen upon an accident. For example, Vermont has a law that says if an individual sees someone who needs help, that person must call 911 or could face prosecution. This type of Good Samaritan law is not as common, but it’s important to be aware of your state’s requirements for mandatory assistance.