Good Samaritan Laws are laws that provide someone with immunity from civil liability if they assist an individual who is in need of emergency aid. The laws generally provide protection even if the person helping is negligent and accidentally does something to the injured person that causes additional or further injuries, or does not assist in improving that person’s condition. While Good Samaritan laws provide protection for “ordinary” negligence they do not, for the most part, protect against allegations of “gross negligence.” Gross negligence means that not only that the aiding individual did not conform to the accepted standard of care, but also that his or her actions rose to the level of being willful, wanton, or even malicious. Good Samaritan laws are primarily focused on auto accidents and other health matters that have harmful side effects (i.e. drug use or overdose), but are also particularly applicable to the outdoor recreation industry.
Good Samaritan laws are extremely difficult to know and understand because they vary from state to state. In the United States, there is no general duty to render aid, which means no one is compelled to stop and help a victim. Additionally, generally a victim not helped by a bystander cannot file a civil suit against that person who didn’t stop and assist, but some states do have laws creating a duty to aid.
In Hawaii, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Vermont and Rhode Island, if one is able to stop and help a victim without injuring him or herself but does not, they could face criminal liability and be charged with a minor penalty, like a petty misdemeanor or small fine. In some other states, if one stops to check on an injured person but doesn’t follow through by making sure they get the medical help they need, if they can do so without reasonable harm to themselves, they could be sued.
To add to the confusion about these laws, in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Oregon, civilians who stop to help others don’t have the same protection as people who have some type of medical training. Do note that many states have rules that require someone at fault for causing an injury or dangerous situation to assist the injured person.
North Carolina has several statutes outlining NC Good Samaritan laws:
N.C.G.S. § 90-21.14 discusses first aid or emergency treatment by unpaid individuals and the limiting of their liability for assistance. Any person who renders first aid or emergency treatment to a person who is unconscious, ill or injured, and receives no compensation for that assistance, “shall not be liable for damages for injuries alleged to have been sustained by the person or for damages for the death of the person alleged to have occurred by reason of an act or omission in the rendering of the treatment unless it is established that the injuries were or the death was caused by gross negligence, wanton conduct or intentional wrongdoing on the part of the person rendering the treatment. The immunity conferred in this section also applies to any person who uses an automated external defibrillator (AED) and otherwise meets the requirements of this section.” This law does not limit liability of a paid emergency technician or medical professional.
“In the event of any conflict between the provisions of this section and those of N.C.G.S. 20-166(d)(below), the provisions of G.S. 20-166(d) shall control and continue in full force and effect.”
N.C.G.S. § 20-166 is a DOT law related to automobile accidents, but also provides an outline for limiting liability of good Samaritans in other emergency situations. The law requires one involved in an auto accident, especially one in which an injury or death occurred, to stop and remain at the scene of the accident. Section (d) states that “any person who renders first aid or emergency assistance at the scene” of an accident, shall not be liable for civil damages unless the acts or omissions related to the services rendered amount to wanton conduct or intentional wrongdoing (i.e. gross negligence).
No matter what state one lives in, there are some things he or she can do in an emergency injury situation without exposing oneself to liability:
- Call 911 (don’t assume others have already called for help);
- Stay with the victim and comfort them until firefighters or paramedics arrive;
- If you are unsure of the victim’s injuries, don’t pull them from a wrecked vehicle (unless there is a greater imminent danger), because you could make their injuries worse;
- Instead, look around for dangerous things you can move away from the victim or move the victim away from the dangerous situation;
- Ultimately, be careful about putting yourself at risk. The laws should not require a Good Samaritan to put themselves in a position of danger or risk.
Forrest P. Merithew, Attorney at Law, is an active individual involved in a number of outdoor recreation and other recreational activities, as well as construction, motorsports and other vehicular and engineering endeavors. Through his activities Forrest regularly volunteers with non-profits and other outdoor recreational and environmental activities and opportunities. Some of those experiences are for the purpose of providing risk analysis and management or volunteer safety services. He believes in responsible business practices and if at all possible we should help one another in times of need. Forrest works with recreational, gear, and environmental companies and non-profits in a range of legal work, including, but not limited to: business development, entity formation, consulting, contracts, liability analysis and risk management, regulatory and other governmental issues, and litigation; construction, real estate, and property law and issues; environmental, water, and energy law and regulations; product liability; personal injury; and civil and commercial litigation. He also has a background in insurance coverage and defense to tender insurance policies and provide a defense thereunder for businesses, individuals, and property owners being sued.