The Good Samaritan Law (GSL) was created so that people are not afraid to help someone in an emergency situation fearing that if they make a mistake that they will be sued. Just doing the best you can until help arrives can make the difference between life and death before Emergency Medical Services (EMS) arrive on scene. The law is applicable in all 50 States, but each state has different language applicable to the law.
As long as you act ‘reasonably’ and in ‘good faith’ The GSL is on your side even if you make a mistake(s). The help that you provide must be within your level of training to be considered reasonable, so you can’t reset a femur fracture based on your watching a YouTube video. Also, If you help someone while under the influence of drugs, or alcohol you could be held liable for making a mistake(s), as that would be considered acting unreasonably.
Even If your CPR certification is not current (within two years for American Heart Association CPR certification, and The Red Cross) you are still protected by The GSL. In fact, you don’t have to be certified in CPR at all to be covered under the law. Please see our article and videos on ‘Stayin’ Alive’ Hands-Only CPR. This is a good start until you can get your CPR certification by attending a CPR class by either The American Heart Association, or The American Red Cross.
A Good Samaritan can either be a lay-rescuer, or a medical Professional, but a medical professional cannot be working ‘on the clock’. They may still be in uniform on their way home from work and stop to help someone, and as long as they are not being paid they are a good Samaritan, as well.
The GSL even protects employees working on the job as long as they are not working in a medical capacity. Let’s say a Personal Trainer Certified in CPR saves a person at the health club where they work and they perform compressions in the wrong place. This would create more rib fractures than normal but they are still covered. If the same mistake is made in a medical setting, then healthcare workers are definitely not covered. Please see our article on ‘Saving Women’ for the proper technique to find your hand placement for a compressions. This is a good start until you can get your American Heart Association CPR certification.
People describe Good Samaritan’s as heroes.
Hero’s have a way of empathizing with a person in a dire situation, whether it be pulling someone from a burning vehicle, or performing CPR on them. They don’t hesitate to help even though they are taking a risk. They will always tell you that they don’t see themselves as a hero which further exemplifies why everyone loves a hero!
Although they may be acting instinctively they must be acting safely, or else they most likely wouldn’t be here to tell us their story! When it comes to dangerous situations the first step taught in CPR classes, and in all emergency training programs for that matter, is to make sure the ‘scene is safe’. This is like a mantra in CPR training classes, or First Aid courses and you will probably be ensuring that the scene is safe in your sleep after class.
Implied Consent Vs. Expressed Consent
If someone is unconscious and/or not breathing it is implied that they would give their consent to life-saving treatment if they were able to do so. When it comes to helping minors not accompanied by a parent, or people who are mentally impaired and not with a caregiver, then you can also use implied consent. In the case of minors accompanied by a parent they should give consent for you to help. If a parent does not give consent to help, then wait for EMS to arrive.
On the other hand if you render First Aid for someone who is able to talk to you, then it is imperative to get an expressed, verbal consent from them before you help. If you provide First Aid to someone and do not get their consent, then it could be considered assault and/or battery and you could be liable for any damages. You could be sued even though you did a perfect job helping them!
An actual case that occurred in court was a victim of a motor vehicle accident who was going to lose his leg if a good Samaritan didn’t apply a tourniquet. This person saved the victims life. Sadly, they were sued and lost in court. The victim did not want to live without his leg. If the rescuer was given consent this never would have happened! If somebody refuses your help you can ask them again letting them know of the consequences if you don’t help them. If they respond negatively a second, or third time then walk away. At least you tried and you are still a ‘really’ Good Samaritan!
By Roy Gordon, NREMT/ BLS, CPR Instructor
Revive CPR Training San Francisco