Good Samaritan Laws

March 1, 2010

Legal Lane 0310

I drive over 100,000 miles each year and have come upon the scene of an accident many times.  One in particular keeps me wondering what I should have done to help the people.  Here is the situation, a car had left the road and rolled several time ejecting two people in the center median and one on the shoulder of the highway and one was still unconscious in the car that had smoke coming from under the car.  The guy on the shoulder was able to drag himself off the shoulder and into the median, but the two guys in the median were seriously hurt.  Even a lay person like me could tell there were broken bones and serious cuts, bruises and lots and lots of blood.

I was the second vehicle to stop and went to the guy on the shoulder that was dragging himself off the road.  I ask him if he was OK and he said fine go check on his friend still in the smoking car.  I ran over to the car and could see small flickers of flame under the car as I approached.  The driver was unconscious and appeared severely injured.  I tried to wake him but he was out cold.  The fire was getting bigger so I grabbed the guy as gently as possible and pulled him from the wreck so he was safe from the fire..  A doctor came up and told me to stop and gently put him down, which I did.  He did a quick check to see if he was breathing, heart was working and if there was any bleeding, and then told me to stay with him and keep him still until they could determine if his back or neck was broken or injured.  Cops and Para-medics arrived and took over the care of the guy I was watching.

I have lost sleep wondering if I might get sued if the guy I pulled out of the smoking car was injured worse in the process.  I thought Good Samaritan laws protected anyone who stops to help in accident situations.

Any good lawyer will tell you it depends.  It depends on which state you were in when you assisted the accident victim.  I know it’s crazy, but here is how it works.

States enacted Good Samaritan laws that were at first to protect physicians and others with medical training. Changes in the law through legislation and through court cases have helped some laws evolve to include untrained rescuers who render aid.

There are several versions of Good Samaritan laws. Most states have a Good Samaritan law that protects people like you that stop to help.  Some states have no law at all and you are liable for any additional injuries your action may have caused. And some states protect only licensed personnel in this situation.

A good example is:
Code of Alabama – Title 6: Civil Practice – Section 6-5-332 – Persons rendering emergency care etc., at scene of accident, etc.
(a) When any doctor of medicine or dentistry, nurse, member of any organized rescue squad, member of any police or fire department, member of any organized volunteer fire department, Alabama-licensed emergency medical technician, intern, or resident practicing in an Alabama hospital with training programs approved by the American Medical Association, Alabama state trooper, medical aidman functioning as a part of the military assistance to safety and traffic program, chiropractor, or public education employee gratuitously and in good faith, renders first aid or emergency care at the scene of an accident, casualty, or disaster to a person injured therein, he or she shall not be liable for any civil damages as a result of his or her acts or omissions in rendering first aid or emergency care, nor shall he or she be liable for any civil damages as a result of any act or failure to act to provide or arrange for further medical treatment or care for the injured person.
(b) Omitted for this article
(c) When any physician gratuitously advises medical personnel at the scene of an emergency episode by direct voice contact, to render medical assistance based upon information received by voice or biotelemetry equipment, the actions ordered taken by the physician to sustain life or reduce disability shall not be considered liable when the actions are within the established medical procedures.
(d) Omitted for this article
(e) A person or entity, who in good faith and without compensation renders emergency care or treatment to a person suffering or appearing to suffer from cardiac arrest, which may include the use of an automated external defibrillator, shall be immune from civil liability for any personal injury as a result of care or treatment or as a result of any act or failure to act in providing or arranging further medical treatment where the person acts as an ordinary prudent person would have acted under the same or similar circumstances, except damages that may result from the gross negligence of the person rendering emergency care. This immunity shall extend to the licensed physician or medical authority who is involved in automated external defibrillator site placement, the person who provides training in CPR and the use of the automated external defibrillator, and the person or entity responsible for the site where the automated external defibrillator is located. This subsection specifically excludes from the provision of immunity any designers, manufacturers, or sellers of automated external defibrillators for any claims that may be brought against such entities based upon current Alabama law.
(f) Omitted for this article Vermont, unlike Alabama, requires everyone at the scene to help the injured and provides protection to anyone who assists as long as the person assisting does not do something crazy, which we lawyers call Gross Negligence.  An example of Gross Negligence would be making the injured person with a bone sticking out of his leg get up and walk.
You can see by the Alabama Statute that only trained and licensed persons are covered by the Good Samaritan rules unless the injured person has a heart attack then the lay person is covered.  A simple theme through out the States Good Samaritan laws is that the person rendering the aid must do it in good faith and without compensation (some states even consider a reward any time after the fact to invalidate the protection of the Good Samaritan law).
So what advice can I offer you as you travel across the country and come upon an accident with injury?  First call 911 to report the accident, and then ask the 911 Operator what they want you to do and whether you are covered by Good Samaritan laws so you will be protected.  The call will be recorded and you should be able to rely on the trained professional to guide you on what to do.

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The information, advice and opinions in Legal Lane are entirely those of Jim C. Klepper.