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Good Samaritan laws in the United Statesmarker are laws or acts protecting from liability those who choose to aid others who are injured or ill. They are intended to reduce bystanders' hesitation to assist, for fear of being sued or prosecuted for unintentional injury or wrongful death. Similarly, in Canadamarker, a good Samaritan doctrine 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 reluctant to help a stranger in need for fear of legal repercussions if they were to make some mistake in treatment. Good Samaritan laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, as will their interactions with various other legal principles, such as consent, parental rights and the right to refuse treatment. Such laws generally do not apply to medical professionals' or career emergency responders' on-the-job conduct, but some extend protection to professional rescuers when they are acting in a volunteer capacity.

The principles contained in good Samaritan laws more typically operate in countries in which the foundation of the legal system is English Common Law, such as Australia. In many countries that use civil law as the foundation for their legal systems, the same legal effect is more typically achieved using a principle of duty to rescue.

Good Samaritan laws take their name from a story told by Jesus as contained in Luke 10:25-37, which recounts the aid given by a traveler to a person in need who had been beaten and robbed by bandits.

In the United States

The details of good Samaritan laws/acts in various jurisdictions vary, including who is protected from liability and in what circumstances. Not all jurisdictions provide protection to laypersons, in those cases only protecting trained personnel, such as doctors or nurses. In some cases, laypersons are only protected when rendering aid in narrow circumstances, such as during a declared public health emergency.

Common features

In some jurisdictions, unless a caretaker relationship (such as a parent-child or doctor-patient relationship) exists prior to the illness or injury, or the "good Samaritan" is responsible for the existence of the illness or injury, no person is required to give aid of any sort to a victim. Good Samaritan statutes in the states of Minnesota and Vermont do require a person at the scene of an emergency to provide reasonable assistance to a person in need. This assistance may be to call 9-1-1. Violation of the duty-to-assist subdivision is a petty misdemeanor in Minnesota and may warrant a fine of up to $100 in Vermont. At least five other states, including California and Nevada, have seriously considered adding duty-to-assist subdivisions to their good Samaritan statutes. New York's law provides for immunity for those who assist in an emergency.

Good Samaritan provisions are not universal in application. The legal principle of imminent peril may also apply. In the absence of imminent peril, the actions of a rescuer may be perceived by the courts to be reckless and not worthy of protection. To illustrate, a motor vehicle collision occurs, but there is no fire, no immediate life threat from injuries and no danger of a second collision. If a 'good Samaritan' elects to 'rescue' the victim from the wreckage, causing paralysis or some other injury, a court may rule that good Samaritan laws do not apply because the victim was not in imminent peril and hold the actions of the rescuer as 'reckless' and unnecessary.

Any first aid provided must not be in exchange for any reward or financial compensation. As a result, medical professionals are typically not protected by good Samaritan laws when performing first aid in connection with their employment. Certain states make specific provisions for those trained medical professionals acting as volunteers and for members of volunteer rescue squads acting without expectation of financial compensation.

If a responder begins rendering aid, he must not leave the scene until it is necessary to call for needed medical assistance, a rescuer of equal or higher ability takes over, or continuing to give aid is unsafe. The responder is not legally liable for the death, disfigurement or disability of the victim as long as the responder acted rationally, in good faith and in accordance with their level of training.


The responder must not commit assault or battery by giving aid to a patient without consent of the patient (or of the patient's legal guardian when the patient is a minor) except in those cases where obtaining the consent of the patient or guardian is not possible.

Implied consent

Consent may be implied if the patient is unconscious, delusional, intoxicated or deemed mentally unfit to make decisions regarding their safety or if the responder has a reasonable belief that this was as such; courts tend to be very forgiving in adjudicating this, under the legal fiction that "peril invites rescue" (as in the rescue doctrine). The test in most jurisdictions is that of the 'average, reasonable person'. To illustrate, would the average, reasonable person in any of the states described above consent to receiving assistance in these circumstances if he or she were able to make his or her own decision?

Consent may also be implied if the legal parent or guardian is not immediately reachable and the patient is not considered an adult.

Parental consent

If the victim is a minor, consent must come from a parent or guardian. However, if the legal parent or guardian is absent, unconscious, delusional or intoxicated, consent is implied. A responder is not required to withhold life-saving treatment (e.g., CPR or the Heimlich maneuver) from a minor if the parent/guardian will not consent. The parent/guardian is then considered neglecting, and consent for treatment is implied. Special circumstances may exist if child abuse is suspected.

Laws for first responders only

In some jurisdictions, good Samaritan laws only protect those who have completed basic first aid training and are certified by health organizations, such as the American Heart Association, American Red Cross, St. John Ambulance or American Safety and Health Institute, provided that they have acted within the scope of their training. In these jurisdictions, a person that is neither trained in first aid nor certified, and who performs first aid incorrectly, can still be held legally liable for errors made. In other jurisdictions, any rescuer is protected from liability, so long as the responder acted rationally.

In Canada

In Canada, good Samaritan acts are a provincial power. Each province has its own act, such as Ontariomarker and British Columbiamarker's respective good Samaritan acts; Albertamarker's Emergency Medical Aid Act; and Nova Scotiamarker's Volunteer Services Act Only in Quebec, a civil law jurisdiction, does a person have a general duty to respond, as written in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. In British Columbia, persons have a duty to respond only where a child is endangered.

An example of a typical Canadian law is provided here, from Ontario's Good Samaritan Act, 2001, section 2:
Protection from liability

2. (1) Despite the rules of common law, a person described in subsection (2) who voluntarily and without reasonable expectation of compensation or reward provides the services described in that subsection is not liable for damages that result from the person's negligence in acting or failing to act while providing the services, unless it is established that the damages were caused by the gross negligence of the person. 2001, c. 2, s. 2 (1).

Comparison with duty to rescue

Good Samaritan laws may be confused with the duty to rescue, as described above. U.S. and Canadian approaches to this issue differ. Under the common law, good Samaritan laws provide a defence against torts arising from the attempted rescue. Such laws do not constitute a duty to rescue, such as exists in some civil law countries, and in the common law under certain circumstances. However, the duty to rescue where it exists may itself imply a shield from liability; for example, under the German law of "Unterlassene Hilfeleistung" (neglect of duty to provide assistance), a citizen is obliged to provide first aid when necessary and is immune from prosecution if assistance given in good faith turns out to be harmful. In Canada, all provinces with the exception of Quebec operate on the basis of English Common Law. Quebec operates a civil law system, based in part on the Napoleonic Code, and the principle of duty to rescue does apply.

To illustrate a variation in the concept of duty to rescue, in the Canadian province of Ontario, the Occupational Health and Safety Act provides all workers with the right to refuse to perform unsafe work. There are, however, specific exceptions to this right. When the "life, health or safety of another person is at risk," then specific groups, including "police officers, firefighters, or employees of a hospital, clinic or other type of medical worker (including EMS)" are specifically excluded from the right to refuse unsafe work.

In popular culture

A good Samaritan law was featured in the May 1998 series finale of the popular NBC situation comedy Seinfeld, in which the show's four main characters were all prosecuted and sentenced to one year in jail for making fun of (rather than helping) an overweight man who was getting robbed at gunpoint. In reality, while Massachusettsmarker (where the fictional crime was committed) does have a law requiring passersby to report a crime in progress, the most stringent punishment the characters could have suffered under those circumstances would have been a $500–$2500 fine (assuming they were prosecuted under state law); in addition, the phrase "good Samaritan law," when used in Massachusetts, refers only to the civil law definition and does not have any actual relevance to the law under which Jerry Seinfeld and his friends were prosecuted (which would be considered a duty to rescue).

See also

References and notes

  1. The laws include: Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Code § 5-603; Virginia Code § 8.01-225.
  2. N.Y. Public Health L. §§ 3000-a, 3000-b, 3013 (McKinney 2000); see also Assembly website database fo law. Accessed April 8, 2009.
  3. This can be as simple as a lack of adequate protection against potential diseases, such as vinyl, latex, or nitrile gloves to protect against blood-borne pathogens. A responder is never legally compelled to put himself or herself in danger to aid another person.

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