Imagine that you are walking or driving along, and you come across a car accident scene. The accident just happened, and no official responder, like an ambulance, the police, or fire departments have arrived yet. You want to help, but are afraid that, in today's litigious society, the victim might sue you if you do something wrong. What should you do? And what if you are a licensed health care provider? Can you provide assistance without fear of a lawsuit?
Sadly, your fears are not unwarranted. These lawsuits have happened; injured people have actually sued well-intentioned passersby and health care providers who tried to help them. Luckily, over the years, almost every state’s legislature has realized that it is a good thing for society when passersby attempt to help the injured, and these states have passed what are called “Good Samaritan” laws -- meant to shield from liability those who are simply trying to help at an accident scene.
These laws differ from state to state; some states protect only licensed health care providers, while other states protect anyone who is trying to help. Read on to learn more.
Standard statutory language protecting Good Samaritan health care providers is often something like the following:
“Any health care professional under the laws of this state who in good faith lends emergency care or assistance without compensation at the place of an emergency or accident shall not be liable for any civil damages for acts or omissions performed in good faith so long as any act or omission resulting from the rendering of emergency assistance or services was not grossly negligent or willful misconduct.”
Some states require that the treatment must have been given voluntarily and without expectation of payment in order for the Good Samaritan health care provider to be protected from liability.
So you can see that not all states protect Good Samaritan health care providers completely. They make an exception for gross negligence, willful misconduct, or actions performed in bad faith. But gross negligence and willful misconduct is so much worse than ordinary negligence that it is easy to understand that such serious misconduct can never be tolerated, even if it was voluntarily given.
Standard statutory language protecting Good Samaritans who are not licensed health care providers is often something like the following:
“Any person who is not a health care professional who is present at an emergency or accident scene and who: (1) Believes that the life, health, and safety of an injured person or a person who is under imminent threat of danger could be aided by reasonable and accessible emergency procedures under the circumstances existing at the scene thereof; and (2) Proceeds to lend emergency assistance or service in a manner calculated in good faith to lessen or remove the immediate threat to the life, health, or safety of such a person, shall not be held liable in civil damages in any action in this state for any act or omission resulting from the rendering of emergency assistance or services unless the act or omission was not in good faith and was the result of gross negligence or willful misconduct.”
So, in order to qualify for protection under this type of statutory language, the Good Samaritan has to reasonably believe that the victim was in immediate need of emergency help in order to avoid serious harm or death, and then has to provide help in good faith. And again, the Good Samaritan law is no defense to a charge of gross negligence or willful misconduct.
But you should be aware that some states limit the protection of Good Samaritans who are not licensed health care providers. Some states do not provide protection to a lay Good Samaritan unless the Good Samaritan has a current first aid or life saving certificate from a qualified organization like the Red Cross or the American Heart Association.
Because the laws can differ significantly from state to state, if you are seriously concerned about whether your state’s laws protect you from liability if you should choose to help an accident victim, you should look up your state’s law or contact a lawyer in your state for advice.