A Good Samaritan is somebody who offers help to a person in need. Ensuring that Good Samaritans are protected from liability claims or legal actions as a result of their assistance is important for ensuring that people are not afraid to render assistance to strangers when required to do so. As a result, many jurisdictions around the world have Good Samaritan laws. These laws remove legal liability and other legal complications from those who attempt to help or rescue a person who is in danger, ill, suffering an emergency, or unconscious. Here are three ways Good Samaritan laws are essential in emergency situations.
They protect emergency personnel
Good Samaritan laws differ between states and provinces, but generally they offer some protection to certain emergency and medical personnel. Emergency personnel operate under high-stress conditions and there are times when in their efforts to help someone they could inadvertently cause an injury. For example, a physician may administer a drug to a person in an emergency without knowing that that person is allergic to the drug in question. Typically, that physician would be protected from legal liability since his or her administering of the drug was done in order to help the individual.
Ensure strangers help strangers
Not all Good Samaritan laws apply exclusively to emergency personnel. Many such laws also offer protections to non-emergency personnel who find themselves in a situation where a stranger requires assistance. A Good Samaritan law will protect bystanders from being sued if, in their attempts to render assistance in an emergency, they inadvertently cause injury or damage. Typically, however, there are limitations to this protection. Good Samaritans must exercise at least some standard of care and could potentially be sued if their actions amount to gross negligence. For example, if a motorist witnesses an accident and attempts to drive to the scene of the accident to help, he or she cannot disregard the safety of other users of the road by driving dangerously, such as by swerving in and out of traffic or driving into oncoming traffic.
Protection from criminal charges
Good Samaritan laws don't exist solely to protect people from being exposed to civil lawsuits. In some states and jurisdictions Good Samaritan laws can also protect people from certain criminal charges. These Good Samaritan laws tend to apply in cases of drug overdoses. Because witnesses to a drug overdose may themselves be in possession of illegal drugs, they are often hesitant to contact 911. A Good Samaritan law may protect such witnesses from being charged with certain drug offenses so long as they contact emergency services in order to help a person suffering from a drug overdose get medical assistance as soon as possible. It is important to note, however, that this sort of Good Samaritan law does not exist in all states.
People shouldn't feel held back from assisting somebody in an emergency over fears that their actions could lead to legal trouble. Good Samaritan laws, therefore, offer essential protections to both emergency personnel and bystanders, ensuring that injured or imperiled people get the assistance they need.