Laws and The Samaritan

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Laws and the Samaritan

Have you ever wondered if helping someone in an emergency could get you into trouble? Could rendering aid to a stranger get you sued? Given the litigious nature of our culture, it’s a valid concern. Luckily, there are some laws to protect you if you choose to help your fellow man.

These are the “Good Samaritan” laws, designed to offer legal protection to those who assist injured, ill, incapacitated or criminally victimized people. These laws are intended to ease liability concerns for citizens, and thus increase the odds that they will assist in the case of an emergency.

Below I’ll answer some common questions about these laws, and hopefully shed some light on the protections we enjoy as citizen responders.

Who is a “Good Samaritan”?

Anyone who gives aid to someone else. In particular, a Good Samaritan gives aid during or in the immediate aftermath of an emergency, such as a car accident, crime, medical emergency, etc. Good Samaritans are the first people able to offer help before official aid, such as Police, EMS or Fire arrives.

The term “Good Samaritan” comes from a story told by Jesus in the book of Luke, in which a man is brutally beaten by thieves and left for dead. People from the victim’s own culture and class pass him by without helping, but a Samaritan (who would have been viewed with suspicion and disgust by the people Jesus was addressing) came and cared for the victim, even though he had no cultural or religious connection to the man. Strangers helping strangers simply because of the righteousness of doing so is the core of the Good Samaritan mindset.

What Are Some Common Features of Good Samaritan Laws?

Good Samaritan laws provide limited liability protection to persons responding to an emergency. This protects them from civil lawsuits in particular. “Limited” means there are some conditions you have to meet to get that protection. The 3 most common conditions are: 1) You must not receive or expect any monetary reward for your aid. 2) You must not act with malicious intent. 3) You must stay within the actions of a reasonable person in your position (i.e. You are not protected for gross negligence). When possible, you should also obtain the victim’s consent, or the consent of a parent if assisting a child. When the victim is unable to give consent (as opposed to refusing aid) then most states will consider consent implied.

Do They Protect Anyone Who Helps?

Most, but not all, offer protection to anyone responding. Some, however, only offer protection to trained personnel. Among the 8 states I found that had that stipulation, definition of “trained” ranged from Physicians, Nurses and EMS to just anyone who had completed a state approved* CPR and/or 1st Aid Course.

(*- this is often a specific course from a specific provider, and varies by state)

What States Have Them?

I was able to find some type of limited liability protection for persons responding to emergencies in 48 States. Not all states refer to these as “Good Samaritan Laws” and there are some specifics to each state worth noting. The the most comprehensive collection of the written laws I was able to find is at this link. Check it out to see the written law for your state, or contact your state Attorney General.

I’ve compiled a fast and dirty rundown in the table below for the various states. It’s worth taking the time to check with your state’s website or State Attorney General if you have any questions about these laws, or in case anything has changed since this post. (Also, since I’m not a lawyer, I may have misunderstood or unintentionally omitted something important in you state).

This table provides some basic info on US States with regard to "Good Samaritan Laws" as researched and compiled by a layman.
This table provides some basic info on US States with regard to “Good Samaritan Laws” as researched and compiled by a layman.

Good Samaritan Laws are a good thing. They are an important protection for regular people against malicious or misguided lawsuits from people who weren’t there to assist or understand the immediate circumstances of an emergency. No decent person should be forced to hesitate in rendering aid to their fellow man because they’re scared of facing the ambulance chasers in our culture.

Until Next Time!

Justin White

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