Can you imagine a situation where you are laying on the ground, perhaps hurt by another person or experiencing some sort of medical emergency, with no one around to help? That scenario is enough to scare most people. Now imagine that there are many others around you. It should give you a level of comfort, right? That hope would quickly turn to frustration and desperation if none of those people came to your aid for fear that you would sue them if they were to have a misstep in how they handled the situation! It would be a terrible place to be in, for sure, and helped to spawn laws that would limit the liability of passersby, namely the Good Samaritan Laws.
WHAT IS A GOOD SAMARITAN LAW?
These laws are named after the parable in the bible found in Luke 10:25-37 where a stranger aiding another traveler was lauded for his actions. In general, Good Samaritan laws are intended to give protection from prosecution to someone helping a stranger. Initially, the laws were meant to indemnify medical personnel giving medical assistance in a situation. Many of these laws grew from there. Typically, they protect the caregiver from ‘reasonable’ mistakes; if gross negligence in care occurs, the law could be void. It is also difficult to define ‘reasonable’ as the term is subjective to who is viewing the mistake. Additionally, the laws only give protection if the person volunteered the help and did not receive money for their acts.
WHAT LAWS EXIST?
All states have some form of Good Samaritan laws, although they vary from state to state. Some states still only protect medical personnel. They can also take both sides of the issue with some states (Minnesota and Vermont, for example) requiring bystanders to assist and subject to prosecution if they do not help in a situation; Michigan gives protection to bystanders who do not help. Most states, however, give immunity if a person chooses to help, but do not require people to assist.
Some states protect strangers who are not trained medically if they performed CPR or controlled bleeding, but little else. There are also distinctions between ‘medical care’ and ‘emergency care’ in a given situation, the nuances of which may not be completely obvious to a layperson. If you are an off-duty medical personnel, the laws are often different than for regular citizens in terms of your liability, with some states requiring medical personnel to intervene if in the vicinity.
Recently, many states (approximately 24) have widened their laws to include assistance during an overdose episode. There are injections and nasal sprays that can be given to a victim experiencing an overdose without any medical training by the witness.
Remember, calling 911 for professional outside help is always a good and safe first step. Despite whether or not you would be held liable for medical mistakes, each individual would need to gauge the situation for him/herself to determine the urgency of medical aid needed before personnel arrive. Even if your state’s Good Samaritan law does not give full protection, it does not mean that any mistake would put you automatically at fault, either.