Good Samaritan Law

The Good Samaritan Law is a law that protects civilians who help people they believe to be injured or otherwise in danger. For example, the Good Samaritan Law provides people with the freedom to act without having to fear the other person might sue them. The purpose of the Good Samaritan Law is to encourage ordinary people to help someone in distress before the police are able to arrive. To explore this concept, consider the following Good Samaritan Law definition.

Definition of Good Samaritan Law

Noun

  1. A law that protects people from legal repercussions when they believe another person is injured and decide to help them out.

Origin

October 19, 1998

Duty to Act

The law defines “duty to act” as a person using any available remedy to prevent harm from coming to an individual person, or to the public at large. For instance, it is a parent’s duty to act to protect his or her children from danger, and to protect others from the danger that child could pose to others.

Typically, there is no duty to act unless there is a contract in place that specifically assigns one. However, in the case of a Good Samaritan, an individual creates a duty to act by voluntarily inserting himself into a situation. By assigning responsibility to himself for the wellbeing of another person, the individual now has a duty to act to see his remedy through to the end.

Those who have a duty to act include healthcare workers and other emergency responders, and this often applies even when they are off duty. For instance, an off duty Paramedic happens on the scene of an accident. In most states, this person has a duty to act – he must stop and render aid. Further, if he acts in a negligent manner and makes a mistake that causes the victim to suffer further injury, he can be held liable. This is because, since he has a duty to act, the Good Samaritan law doesn’t apply to him.

Consider the following example of the Good Samaritan Law incorporating a duty to act:

While on her way to the grocery store, Amanda comes upon a crowd of people gathered around a man who fell from a scaffold two stores above. Amanda is an EMT, so she stops to render aid. She chooses to roll the man over, then has someone help her drag him closer to the building so people can pass.

It turns out that the man had fractured his spine, and moving him severed his spinal cord, leaving the man paralyzed. As a medical professional, Amanda had a duty to act, and to act in a competent way. She should have known not to move the man without the proper equipment and precautions. The Good Samaritan law does not protect Amanda from a lawsuit.

Duty to Remain

The duty to remain is similar to the duty to act in that, once a person starts providing aid, he cannot leave the scene until one of the following happens:

  • He calls for additional medical assistance.
  • He recognizes that continuing to offer help is actually doing more harm than good.
  • An equal or more qualified rescuer takes over.

A person’s duty to remain can end, for example, if there is blood present, and the person administering aid does not have gloves to protect him from blood-borne pathogens. The law does not expect a person to put himself in harm’s way in order to help another person.

Example of Duty to Remain

Tommy is eating at a diner when he notices Daisy is choking on her food. He makes his way over to her table and begins performing the Heimlich maneuver on her. Because Tommy has already begun an attempt to save Daisy’s life, he now has a duty to act to complete his rescue. Therefore, if he gives up trying to help her, and she dies as a result, he can be found legally liable for abandoning his attempt to save her.

Compensation or Reward

The only way a person receives protection under the Good Samaritan Law is if he acts without any expectation of compensation or reward. If he saves someone with the intention of receiving a reward afterwards, then he saved the person, not out of the kindness of his heart, but instead for some sort of personal gain. This is one reason why doctors and other medical professionals do not receive protection under the Good Samaritan Law because they earn a paycheck (compensation or reward) for the services they provide.

Some states have specific laws in place to cover those individuals, like paramedics, who work as volunteers. This is due to the grey area that surrounds whether they are, in fact, Good Samaritans because they do not receive compensation or reward for their services.

What is Gross Negligence?

There is actually a difference between ordinary negligence and gross negligence, though many people believe they are one and the same.

Ordinary negligence

Negligence is a person’s failure to use the same level of care and caution that another reasonable person in a similar situation would use. Ordinary negligence typically refers to a mistake or an accident that results in a person receiving an injury.

For instance, if a janitor forgets to put up a “Caution: Wet Floor” sign when he’s done mopping, and someone slips and falls, this is an example of ordinary negligence. The janitor did not mean to cause anyone harm, but his actions (or, rather, inaction) lead to another person’s injury and so is legally responsible for that injury. He may have to pay for damages, including medical treatment and pain and suffering, to cover the person’s injury.

Gross Negligence

Gross negligence refers to deliberate and reckless behavior that puts another’s safety or property at risk. For instance, someone driving down a busy Manhattan road going 90 mph is engaging in gross negligence. He knows the odds are good that he could hit and injure someone, and yet he drove at a speed grossly over the speed limit anyway.

In this case, not only would a court order the person to pay for the damage he caused, but the amount ordered would be, in all likelihood, higher. On top of the court, a court would probably order him to pay punitive damages as well as a form of punishment for his behavior.

Car Accidents

Car accidents are another good example to help distinguish between ordinary and gross negligence. Your average run-of-the-mill car accident caused by someone running a stop sign, or engaging in other careless behavior, is negligence. While he didn’t set out to hurt anyone, his actions caused an injury. However, someone who is driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol may face gross negligence charges. He knew it was wrong to drink and drive, and he knew the consequences that could come of it, but he chose to do it anyway.

A Good Samaritan Law Example: Pinned By a Tractor-Trailer

An example of the Good Samaritan Law at the court level involved a tractor-trailer pinning a man’s leg, and a bystander’s desperate attempt to free him.

In April of 2012, Dennis Carter, a truck driver, attempted to pull himself onto the loading dock of AIC Contracting, Inc., located in Fairfield, Ohio. During his attempt, he slipped, and his leg became stuck between the trailer and the loading dock. He was unable to free himself.

Carter yelled for help and banged on the door of the loading dock, hoping to grab someone’s attention. He did – Larry Reese, Jr. heard him and drove over to the loading dock. Reese tried to help Carter by moving the truck, but he soon realized he had no idea how to operate the truck. Unfortunately, Reese ended up breaking Carter’s leg and, due to the severity of the injury, Carter ultimately had to have his leg amputated.

Carter and his wife then sued Reese. Reese defended himself under the Good Samaritan Law, and the trial court granted the dismissal of the case.

Appeal and the Supreme Court of Ohio

On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision, saying that the Good Samaritan Law covers anyone who does not act with deliberate misconduct. The court determined that Reese’s conduct met all of the qualifications of the Good Samaritan Law in that:

  • An emergency situation existed
  • Reese’s conduct constituted emergency care
  • Reese did not commit willful or malicious misconduct in his efforts to assist Carter

The Carters then appealed to the Supreme Court of Ohio. There were two questions that the Court then had to decide:

  1. Did the “no person shall be liable for civil damages” clause in the Good Samaritan Law extend to anyone, or just healthcare professionals?
  2. Did the phrase “administering emergency care” in the Good Samaritan Law refer to all forms of care, or just to medical care?

Decision

The Supreme Court of Ohio ultimately affirmed the appellate court’s decision. In making its decision, the Court referred to the Ohio statute. Ohio’s statute was similar to the statutes of other states, and so the Court could therefore rely upon it when deciding these more general issues. This helped the court decide the two questions the case presented, and which were otherwise rather vague.

Said the Court, in its ruling:

“Ohio’s Good Samaritan statute applies to any person who administers emergency care or treatment at the scene of an emergency including but not limited to health care professionals. Moreover, the phrase ‘administering emergency care’ in the statute is not limited to medical acts and includes rendering medical and any other form of assistance to the safety and well-being of another when the result of an unforeseen combination of circumstances calls for immediate action. Because Reese performed acts at the scene of an emergency in administering emergency care to Carter and there is no allegation of willful or wanton misconduct, pursuant to R.C. 2305.23, he is not liable in civil damages. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the court of appeals.”

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Appellate Court – A court having jurisdiction to review decisions of a trial-level or other lower court.
  • Punitive Damages – Money awarded to the injured party above and beyond their actual damages. This is to punish the wrongdoer for outrageous misconduct in a civil matter.
  • Statute – A written law passed by a legislature on the state or federal level.

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