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Understanding Good Samaritan Laws

Author’s note: Over a five year period, I have trained several hundred individuals in CPR and basic first aid. Frequent questions were posed at nearly every class regarding legality of those who responded to aid victims. What are the rights of those who assist? Are you required to give aid? Can you be sued if the person dies? Though most people are familiar with the “Good Samaritan Laws” in general, much confusion still exists about this arena.

What is the Good Samaritan Law?

Though slight variations exist, state to state, in general Good Samaritan Laws were created to protect the laypersons who offer medical aid to others. They also, however, protect the victims by giving a few criteria that must be abided by. In legal terms, a “Good Samaritan” is one who offers aid on a voluntary basis in an emergency situation. Certain immunity is granted to the person who gives emergency medical care. This means those who help the injured are not held legally liable for damages in most cases. However there are provisions that must be observed.

Provisions of Good Samaritan Laws Include:
  1. Aid must be given as a result of emergency.
  2. Must not give aid for payment or expect payment (including a reward).
  3. Emergency care must not be given in grossly negligent way or meant to harm the victim. Care must be given in good faith.

What do “Gross Negligence” and “Good Faith” mean?

People who give aid to others must be prudent in their care offered. In other words, if you open your door on a winter’s day to find a dazed young man standing in your yard who had a very minor snowmobile accident, you might bring him in out of the cold, give him a warm blanket, instruct him to lie still, and closely monitor him for any serious problem. Although he appears in outwardly good condition, and is quickly alert and talking, you still contact 911 immediately to further assess the victim. This would be considered “good faith”.

You’ve aided the young snowmobiler to the best of your ability and with good intention. In addition, you’ve contacted rescue workers who can provide additional assistance. Even if he later died of his injuries, you still have performed what most would term, “good faith”.

On the other hand, in the same scenario, if you bring in the injured snowmobiler and notice he’s bleeding profusely or is vomiting blood and you park him on your couch but don’t call 911 or leave him in this condition to go run an errand, you aren’t being prudent and your actions could be determined to be “gross negligence”.

Do I have to Help an Injured Person?

This answer is a little sticky and it varies state to state on what is meant by “help”. In many states you aren’t required to give first aid, unless it’s part of your job. BUT in most states, if you don’t at least contact 911, you can be considered negligent. At the bare minimum, you should always call for help.

In the earlier snowmobiler scenario, if you slammed the door and pretended he was not there, and made no call to 911, you would likely be guilty of negligence.

The decision to give first aid or CPR may also depend on your personal safety. The law does not expect you to risk your own safety.

For example, if an individual is overcome with toxic fumes, your own safety would be compromised by entering the area. Alerting rescue workers is the best “good faith” effort you can make in that situation.

You should however, check your state laws regarding how assisting others is determined. Some states, like Florida, require those in car accidents to “render to any person injured in the crash reasonable assistance” which includes contacting 911 for medical treatment. Reasonable assistance might be determined to imply offering basic first aid as well, until rescue workers arrive.

The bottom line: The Good Samaritan Laws are in place for the protection of all- victims as well as those who offer aid. With the exception of unsafe conditions prohibiting assistance, attempt to offer all the aid and comfort within your ability till trained emergency workers arrive.

Consent: You must obtain permission of conscious injured persons to give first aid. Respect their wishes if they refuse. When you happen on an injured victim, always state your name and any first aid training you have. Then inquire if you can assist them. Example, “I’m Sally, I’ve had some basic first aid training. Would you like me to help you?”

If they reject your aid, offer other choices they will accept- such as calling 911. If potential exists that puts the victim’s life in danger, explain this to them. “That head injury is bleeding quite a bit. You need to be checked out by a doctor. You shouldn’t drive. ” Offer to call someone for the victim, such as a relative, and stay with the individual till they are in the care of someone else or the proper medical authorities.

Many seriously injured are very agitated or confused, which means you may have to calm them down for a minute before they understand fully the need for assistance. If they give consent, keeps a dialogue going, informing them what you need to do (especially if it involves touching injured persons). “I’d like to check your pulse. Is that OK? ”

For those who are unconscious or unable to give consent (like an infant), it’s considered “implied consent” if you assist by giving first aid or CPR.

Again, always use good judgment in calling professionals. When in doubt, call 911. Once you begin caring for an injured person, (or even if they refuse your care), remain with the victim until you are relieved by medical professionals. Abandoning a victim is inherently wrong.