Good Samaritan laws are named for the good Samaritan in the Bible story who stopped to offer help without expectation of reward. These laws vary from state to state, but all apply to anyone who comes to the aid of an injured person in an emergency on a voluntary basis. The person giving the aid owes the stranger the duty of being reasonably careful.
What Is the Purpose of a Good Samaritan Law?
In California, the state court said it is the intent of the legislature in enacting Good Samaritan laws to encourage individuals to volunteer to assist others in need during an emergency. Good Samaritan laws are state laws enacted to protect healthcare providers and other bystanders from lawsuits arising from providing help to a victim in an emergency situation. As long as reasonable care is used to provide aid or assistance during an emergency, with the resources that were available at the time, the good Samaritan cannot be sued for additional injuries the victim sustained as a result of that aid.
The reasonable care standard varies by profession and the type of assistance rendered. Physicians and trained medical professionals must act according to accepted professional medical standards. The standard of reasonable care varies according to the volunteer's level of skill and experience. For a lay person, the reasonable care standard might just be to call for help and wait until it arrives, but for a surgeon coming to the aid of a car accident victim, the standard of care is higher because of her medical expertise.
Read More: Pros Vs. Cons of Good Samaritan Laws
Do All States Have a Good Samaritan Law?
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have good Samaritan laws. However, the laws vary from state to state. For example in Minnesota and Vermont, bystanders are compelled to come to the aid of an emergency, but in Michigan there are laws protect bystanders who specifically do not help.
The good Samaritan laws for off-duty medical personnel also vary from state to state. Twenty-four states protect off-duty doctors giving emergency care in a hospital, but six states do not. Two states have a “duty to assist law” for physicians. The burden is on citizens to know the extent of the good Samaritan laws in their city and state.
Why Was the Good Samaritan Law Developed?
Before there were Good Samaritan laws, a stranger was under no legal duty to come to the aid of someone in trouble. For the most part, this is still the law today. The Good Samaritan laws were created to encourage bystanders to come to the aid in emergency situations. If a doctor saw an emergency and stepped in to help, he could be liable for damages caused by his negligent care. The prospect of being sued made many doctors wary about offering help to strangers in emergency situations.
Initially, Good Samaritan laws were intended to protect physicians and others with medical training who stepped in to help someone in need of assistance. Eventually, court decisions and some legislative decisions developed laws in some states to include not just medical professionals but untrained rescuers who provide aid in an emergency. California was the first state to pass a Good Samaritan law to encourage physicians and nonmedical personnel to offer care at the scene of an accident without fear of civil suits for negligence.
Good Samaritan laws are state laws enacted to protect healthcare providers and untrained lay volunteers from lawsuits arising from providing help to a victim in an emergency situation.
Frances Katz is an attorney who writes about legal issues in business for a variety of publications including The New York Times, The Week, Paste, The Independent and The New York Times. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.