What Is The Good Samaritan Law?

Definition of what the Good Samaritan Law doctrine is and its purpose. Also, what it protects against and when it is used in a tort suit.

Tortfeasor: one who commits wrong; a wrongdoer.

It is for this fear, that the good samaritan laws were enacted. The good samaritan doctrine as it is legally known, is a legal principle that prevents a rescuer who has voluntarily helped a victim in distress from being successfully sued for 'wrongdoing.' Its purpose is to keep people from being so reluctant to help a stranger in need for fear of legal repercussions if they made some mistake in treatment. Therefore, this doctrine was primarily developed for first aid encounters and every state does have its own adaptation of it. However, the crucial points are about the same.

Good Samaritan doctrine - Black's Law 7th edition: 'A statute that exempts from liability a person (such as an off-duty physician) who voluntraily renders aid to another in imminent danger but negligently causes injury while rendering the aid. Some form of good-samaritan legislation has been enacted in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.'

This is how the law reads verbatim. It is very straightforward as far as laws go, but there are some gray areas to it. The first questionable area is, 'unless the rescue attempt is unreasonable.' What this is referring to is when we provide care that is, by all accounts, unnecessary. Such as, removing an injured victim from a car that is not in imminent danger and the movement aggravates the injuries. Another example could be treating non-life-threatening injuries where the condition was worsened in the attempt, splinting a broken bone. Splinting requires moving the victim so we run the risk of causing an open fracture, etc.

The other area in question, 'the rescuer acts unreasonably in performing the attempted rescue.' First of all, a person is not obligated by law to do first aid in most states, not unless it's part of a job description obviously. Some states will consider it an act of negligence though, if we don't at least call for help. Beyond this, assisting is optional and voluntary, partly due to preserving the rescuer's own health in the process. Without protective equipment the rescuer could be exposed to infectious diseases by coming into contact with a victim's bodily fluids. In short, we are not obligated to render first aid in fear of cross-contamination yet, if we begin to help, we must continue to do so until one of three things happen: the victim recovers, another trained person replaces you or we are too physically exhausted to continue. Stopping for any other reason is interpreted legally as, 'acting unreasonably.' Then the good samaritan laws would offer us no protection if there were a tort suit.

Another doctrine for reference is the emergency doctrine.

'1. A legal principle exempting a person from the ordinary standard of reasonable care if that person acted instinctively to meet a sudden and urgent need for aid-also termed imminent-peril doctrine;sudden-emergency doctrine; sudden-peril doctrine.

2. A legal principle by which consent to medical treatment in a dire situation is inferred when neither the patient nor a responsible party can consent but a reasonable person would do so.'

This law makes a distinct difference between a lay person and a professional performing first aid. 'Exempting a person from the ordinary standard of care', this excludes professionals from being protected by good samaritan laws in wrongdoing. It is specific, again, to a lay person. The second point defines a difference between a conscious and an unconscious victim, 'consent to medical treatment in a dire situation is inferred.' Where an unconscious victim cannot respond, we can help them anyway on the grounds of implied consent. However, if the victim is conscious and can respond, we are to ask their permission to help them first. Otherwise we run the risk of not being protected under either doctrine if we should be sued. These types of suits are known legally as a tort suit, wrongful. No one has been sued successfully in a tort suit since these doctrines were instated, not that a rescuee could not try though.

The consensus among many people now-a-days is, the less we do the better off we are when it comes to helping non-life-threatening emergencies. Thinking of it in these terms is unfortunate for most but, we could look at it this way too. The victim is better served if we place our focus on life-threatening emergencies such as: no breathing, no pulse, severe bleeding and shock. These emergencies could cause death and/or irreversible damage within the time it could take 911 to respond. All other injuries and conditions are non-life-threatening within this period. If we leave these conditions to be treated by the professionals, we won't run as much risk of crossing any legal boundaries. Now, some people may consider this unethical. Nevertheless, the ethical arena is entirely different from the legal arena, isn't it?

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