What Are Good Samaritan Laws?

Did you ever stop to wonder if you’d get in trouble for a good deed? What if you stopped to assist victims of a car accident or someone who had a heart attack at a sports venue?

In most cases, “good Samaritan” laws protect bystanders who step in to help. Any protections offered by good Samaritan laws, however, are limited and will vary by state.

Why Do Good Samaritan Laws Exist?

Good Samaritan laws also are referred to as volunteer protection laws. By offering protection from certain claims and lawsuits, good Samaritan laws mean to protect – and hopefully encourage – regular people to help others in emergencies when first responders have not yet arrived.

Depending on the state, good Samaritan laws may also protect first responders and medical professionals from liability arising from the rescue and subsequent medical care.

What ‘Reasonable’ Means

One example of how good Samaritan laws offer liability protection might be that of a restaurant patron who witnesses a child choking at a table nearby. The concerned patron rushes to perform the Heimlich maneuver with permission from the panicked parents.

The patron’s quick thinking saves the child’s life, but not without unintentional — but reasonable — injury to the child’s ribs and internal organs. The restaurant patron who saved this child’s life would likely be protected from any potential lawsuits resulting from their good deed.

The keyword here is “reasonable.”

Good Samaritan laws don’t mean you can’t be sued. Anyone determined to have acted either recklessly or negligently in the course of providing rescue assistance can still be found liable for personal injury damages.

Are You Required to Help?

Good Samaritan Laws vary from state to state. In Hawaii, for example, these laws protect healthcare and emergency responders, as well as regular people like the restaurant patron example described above.

Volunteer protection laws do not obligate passersby to rescue anyone in need in some states. That means you are not under any legal duty to help, but the law usually offers protection from liability for those who do assist.

Exceptions to the Rule

Alabama is one state that limits good Samaritan law protection to medically trained rescuers and public education system employees in every instance but one: offering assistance to someone suffering from a heart attack.

Oklahoma also limits its good Samaritan protections for untrained rescuers to controlling bleeding and performing CPR.

Another notable exception to the rule is that good Samaritan laws protect potential rescuers only at the state level. That means any potential good Samaritans would not be protected certain claims in federal court.

Failure-to-Act Laws

Minnesota, Louisiana, and Vermont have “failure-to-act” laws on the books. These laws place a legal duty on passersby or witnesses to offer emergency help. Failing to provide reasonable assistance in the state of Minnesota, for example, could result in a petty misdemeanor charge and a maximum fine of $300.

Do You Know Your Local Law?

No one can predict when they will come across an emergency scene, or even if they will find themselves at the mercy of passersby. If you were to find yourself in the position of victim or would-be rescuer, would you know what protections your local good Samaritan laws offer, and which actions they may prohibit or require?

You may consider educating yourself on what the good Samaritan laws are in your state.

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