Good Samaritan laws are designed to help protect people who are willing to go out of their way to help others. Unfortunately, the highly litigious nature of some people would lead them to take advantage of another's good intentions if something goes wrong. Good Samaritan laws are supposed to protect people from legal action after they try to help someone. As with many laws, though, it has both pros and cons.
Pro - Encouraging Help
Good Samaritan laws ensure that people who are injured and in need of help receive the help that they require. Problems such as the "bystander effect," a psychological effect where people in large groups are unlikely to respond to someone in need, create situations where victims sometimes don't get care in emergency situations. Good Samaritan laws ensure people with some legal protection in the event that something goes wrong when administering first aid, and in certain states, compel people with medical training to help an injured person.
Pro - Protection From Error
Despite the best intention that a person has, administering first aid is tricky at the best of times. In the heat of the moment, mistakes happen. Good Samaritan laws ensure that people who have good intentions and act responsibility won't be punished for honest mistakes. For instance, a person who administers CPR but breaks a person's ribs through overenthusiastic chest compressions would not be charged with assault when protected by Good Samaritan laws. Without such laws, he could potentially be sued by the person he was trying to help.
Cons - Expectations
If a person has any experience in the medical field, or any medical or emergency training, Good Samaritan laws apply in a different way. Instead of providing a generalised immunity, the person is legally expected to perform to the level of education and proficiency that a member of their profession or a person of their experience is expected to have. For example, if a nurse witnessed an emergency and made a mistake that no nurse would be expected to make, she could be held liable for that error.
Cons - Misinterpretation
The other problem with Good Samaritan laws is that people are not always clear about how they work. People think they are protected by laws that guard those with good intentions. This convinces a person to help others and sometimes leave themselves open to liability. For example, in a case in 2008 in California, one person pulled another from a car that had collided with a post. That person ended up being sued as the victim claimed injuries were exacerbated by being pulled from the car. The California supreme court ruled that because assistance, but not first aid, was provided, the Good Samaritan was liable for some of the injuries the victim sustained.
- US Legal: Good Samaritans Law & Legal Definition
- Brown & Burke Attorneys at Law; Outdoor Law: The Applicability of Good Samaritan Laws to Those Trained In Wilderness Medicine; Rufus E. Brown, Esq.
- HeartSafe America: FAQ: Good Samaritan Law
- "The Telegraph"; 'Good Samaritan' Can Be Sued After Pulling Friend From Car Wreckage; Tom Leonard; December 2008