Good Samaritan laws offer limited protection to people who attempt to help another person they believe to be injured, ill, in peril, or otherwise incapacitated. The laws are intended to reduce a bystander’s hesitation to assist someone for fear of being sued or prosecuted for unintentional injury or wrongful death. The keys to most Good Samaritan laws are acting in good faith, not for compensation or looking for a fee, and without gross negligence or misconduct.
The origin of the Good Samaritan laws’ name is from a Bible parable attributed to Jesus Christ. It tells the story of a traveler from Samaria giving aid to another traveler who had been beaten and robbed by bandits. The traveler in need of help was of a conflicting religious and ethnic background.
Common examples of situations where Good Samaritan Laws would come into effect include someone experiencing chest pain or someone falling and hitting their head on a sidewalk. Good Samaritan laws encourage bystanders to help these people without fear of their actions inadvertently contribute to further injury or death. Immediate action by bystanders is critical in emergencies, such as cardiac episodes, as hesitating for even seconds is often a matter of life and death.
Good Samaritan laws exist in all 50 U.S. states but there is variation between each state’s laws. Most of these laws do not apply to medical professionals or career emergency responders when they are on the job but may offer protection for responding when they are off the clock. Good Samaritan laws may also interact with other legal principles, including consent, the right to refuse treatment, and parental rights. These interactions also vary by state.
In most cases, a bystander cannot be held liable for not providing assistance to someone in distress, but there are exceptions. In some states, bystanders are required to act in a limited capacity. Minnesota, Louisiana, Rhode Island, and Vermont have “failure-to-act” laws, meaning that passersby or bystanders have a legal duty to offer emergency help. For example, in Minnesota, failing to provide reasonable assistance could result in a misdemeanor charge and a fine of up to $300. This does not necessarily entail running into a burning building to save someone but instead offering to call 911 or giving someone water if they start to feel faint or dizzy. Good Samaritan laws don’t guarantee that someone won’t file a civil lawsuit, but make it less likely that someone providing help will get sued. It’s a good idea to understand the Good Samaritan laws where you live if you are the type of person to step up and help someone in need.
Laws also vary regarding the emergencies on which people should act and which people should act. For example, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Delaware's laws cover anyone who attempts to help in an emergency. In Alabama, the laws only extend to trained rescuers and public education employees unless the emergency is cardiac arrest. If the emergency is cardiac arrest, Alabama law covers anyone. In Oklahoma, the law only protects bystanders who assist in CPR or controlling bleeding. Similarly, in Kansas and Missouri, only trained healthcare workers are protected from liability. The general public is not protected.
Many states have additional Good Samaritan Laws that grant immunity to those who call 911 for drug overdoses. These laws often require the caller to have a reasonable belief that someone is experiencing a drug overdose and is reporting the overdose in good faith. Some states’ laws specify that immunity for covered offenses is not grounds for suppressing evidence for other crimes. Other requirements often include remaining on the scene until help arrives and cooperating with emergency personnel. The states that do not have Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Immunity laws are Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Wyoming.
Good Samaritan Law
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