Good Samaritan laws exist in every state in the United States and in many countries around the world. In short, this type of law protects individuals who provide medical aid in emergency situations, which could be as simple as calling 911 or as extensive as providing medical care, from liability for any damages the victim suffers from the assistance provided.
Understanding Good Samaritan Laws
Good Samaritan laws vary from state to state. In some jurisdictions, such as Nevada, the law includes language specific to certain types of first responder and particular circumstances. Many Good Samaritan laws specify that the legal immunity from liability for damages applies only to responders who act in good faith. Some, like Alabama’s Good Samaritan law, specifically exclude responders who engage in reckless behavior, gross negligence or intentional misconduct from legal protection.
A few examples of the damages victims could suffer related to bystanders’ aid include:
- Broken bones and soft tissue injuries caused by a bystander lifting or carrying the victim improperly.
- Injuries and worsened prognoses related to delayed treatment due to circumstances beyond the responder’s control, like poor cellphone service.
- Injuries related to incorrect CPR administration.
In some jurisdictions, Good Samaritan laws go beyond providing liability protection to give bystanders protection from criminal charges related to the incidents they report. One notable law like this is New York’s 911 Good Samaritan law, which protects individuals who call 911 in drug and alcohol overdose situations from certain drug, drug paraphernalia and underage alcohol possession charges.
Read More: What Is the Good Samaritan Law?
Good Samaritan Law Pros and Cons: Pros
Perhaps the most important benefit that Good Samaritan laws provide is that they make it difficult for a victim to take advantage of a good Samaritan. Without this type of legal protection in place, an individual who witnesses an accident might be afraid of being held liable for damages or implicated in the accident somehow. Because of this fear, they choose not to take action to protect those involved.
Among other Good Samaritan law pros and cons is the incentive they give individuals to provide aid when they deem it necessary. If an individual knows she is legally encouraged to provide help to those in need and protected from liability when doing so, she may be more likely to provide aid than she otherwise would be.
Good Samaritan Law Pros and Cons: Cons
Like many other types of law, Good Samaritan laws are not perfect. There are numerous situations where this type of law can potentially backfire, increasing the amount of danger victims face and potentially putting responders into confusing, compromising positions. Although Good Samaritan laws typically do not require bystanders to provide aid to strangers in need, this is* *the case in certain jurisdictions, like Minnesota. In Minnesota, a bystander who does not provide aid in an emergency situation can face a petty misdemeanor charge, regardless of her confidence or ability to provide what the law deems reasonable aid.
Beyond the potential for a bystander to face criminal charges for failing to provide aid, Good Samaritan law pros and cons include laws that require bystanders to provide aid to their best ability. When the responder is a trained medical professional, this can mean facing an immense amount of pressure to provide a high level of care despite being unprepared to do so. For example, a doctor in an emergency situation may be held liable for a victim’s damages in certain jurisdictions if the court deems he did not provide the level of care a doctor could reasonably have been expected to provide in that situation.
Finally, Good Samaritan laws can potentially create scenarios where bystanders overestimate their ability to provide aid, and in trying to help victims, they actually cause the victims more harm. For example, if a bystander with poor swimming skills attempts to rescue a riptide victim, she might herself become caught in the riptide and prevent the victim from receiving immediate aid by diverting the lifeguard’s attention.
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