Looking for the Helpers: Understanding the Good Samaritan Law

Our news cycle has been filled with tragedies. Fires have been sweeping through California, hurricanes destroyed many homes in the U.S., and shocking instances of shootings have cropped up in many states. And yet, it is in these tragic moments that instances of tremendous courage and acts of heroism shine through. There are stories of firefighters working tirelessly to put out the raging fires of Northern California. There are stories of volunteers who braved the post-earthquake conditions of Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico to help the displaced and affected. There are stories of strangers picking up people off the ground and taking them to the hospital during the Las Vegas shooting.

Sometimes, however, in these efforts to help, the rescuee ends up getting hurt by the rescuer. It is an unfortunate occurrence, but not uncommon.

In fact, you’ve probably heard of the story of someone tried to help a guy who was choking by doing the Heimlich maneuver on him. Then the next thing he knows, he’s being sued by the person he helped. These types of stories float around like urban legends, but then may cause you to hesitate before helping someone out. And then, when these types of stories get widespread newspaper coverage, they may have the adverse effect of discouraging people from helping others in emergency situations.

good samaritan lawThankfully, legislators across the country recognize this as a problem and have enacted what are known as “Good Samaritan laws.” Good Samaritan laws can be used as a defense for rescuers who might have hurt another in their efforts to help. There are, of course, limitations. These limitations and the terms of the Good Samaritan law differ in every state. Consequently, in order to determine who is protected by these laws, in what circumstances, for what types of injuries, etc., it is important to note what state you are in.

Good Samaritan Laws Differ by State

All states have some form of a Good Samaritan law, but who and what it covers may vary in range depending on the laws of that particular state. Generally, most states’ Good Samaritan laws do not protect rescuers in situations where the rescuer acted in a negligent or reckless manner that resulted in harm to the rescuee. If the rescuer gave help according to a reasonable standard of care, the rescuer may be protected. However, the scope of the reasonable standard of care depends on whether the rescuer was a medical professional or otherwise certified to provide medical aid. The following include some criteria that may differ between states:

Type of Rescuer

  • Whether the rescuer was a member of medical personnel, emergency personnel or law enforcement at the time of the rescue;
    • Some states make a distinction between on-duty and off-duty personnel.
  • Whether the rescuer was certified to provide the type of care the rescuer provided; and/or
  • Whether the rescuer received compensation for the rescue.

Standard of Care

  • Whether the care was given in good faith;
  • Whether the care given was according to a reasonable standard of care; and/or
  • Whether the rescuer was negligent in the exercise of their care.

Types of Care Given

  • Whether first aid was given;
  • Whether a search and rescue effort was conducted by the rescuer;
  • Whether an AED (a.k.a. defibrillator) was used by the rescuer on the rescuee; or
  • Any other type of treatment/care given at the time of the rescue.

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list and further criteria may be required or observed by different states. Moreover, some of these criteria may not be required by the state that you are in.

What About the Duty to Rescue?

Another thing to note is that Good Samaritan laws are NOT the same thing as Duty to Rescue laws. Good Samaritan laws protect rescuers from being sued by the people they were trying to rescue. Duty to Rescue laws require people to call authorities or provide reasonable aid for strangers in peril. Moreover, only a handful of states have Duty to Rescue laws.

In short, in order to know what protections you have when rescuing another person, check the Good Samaritan law in your state. You never know when you will be called to be the next hero.

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