Good Samaritan Laws Reduce the Risk of Helping Strangers

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Good Samaritan Laws Reduce the Risk of Helping Strangers

By Angela Hermosillo, RN, JD
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Coming upon the scene of an accident or other emergency, most nurses would feel compelled to stop and help. Lucky for the victims of the accident, most people don’t stop to consider the legal implications of rendering their assistance. And lucky for those willing to stop and help, most states have enacted legislation to protect them from any resulting legal liability.  

Good Samaritan statutes are the laws designed to protect those who stop to help emergency victims. While each state’s laws differ, they generally hold that one who voluntarily renders emergency aid to a victim will not be held liable in court for any injury that arises as a result of that aid. Some states’ protections only apply to those with some medical training or background. Fortunately, many courts in these states have been willing to extend those protections to untrained passersby as well.

However, the devil is in the details, and the Good Samaritan’s immunity is not absolute. One of the most important exceptions to liability is lack of protection in cases of gross negligence or willful misconduct. A frequently cited example of gross negligence would be to pull an injured victim from the scene of a car accident without imminent danger such as fire, drowning or other harm. Due to the high risk of spinal cord injury, it is expected that even those without medical training know better than to move an injured person in the absence of further threat of injury or death. Also, there will likely be no protection for those who are deemed to have caused or contributed to the accident.

Additionally, most statutes and case law require that the rescuer be acting out of nothing more than the goodness of one’s heart. One may be excluded from the law’s protection if there is any expectation of payment or reward — before or after the rescue occurs. Likewise, paid health care workers are not covered by Good Samaritan statutes.  They are expected to comply with applicable state law and practice acts. Professional health care workers acting in a purely voluntary capacity, however, are typically covered. This applies to those who simply happen on an emergency situation and those who volunteer their time as emergency responders.

Read an analysis of California’s Good Samaritan Protection Act (SB 39).


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Angela Hermosillo, RN, JD, is a nurse-attorney who works as a consultant in the areas of health care, insurance and employment law. Nothing in this article is or should be construed as the giving of legal advice or as forming an attorney-client relationship. If legal advice is required, the reader should seek out competent legal counsel from an attorney licensed in the appropriate jurisdiction.

This article is from workingnurse.com.

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