Good Samaritan laws are laws enacted by individual states, in most cases, which protect a person who renders cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or other medical aid, from frivolous lawsuits. The intent of these laws is to make it possible for those wary of lawsuits to help save a person without fear of legal recourse if the person is hurt by the treatment or dies.
Often, Good Samaritan laws may apply only to medical professionals or those who have completed Red Cross training or the equivalent in CPR. The helping person must act with the person’s consent, when possible, and this must be an entirely voluntary act. These laws do not apply to medical personnel working in a hospital, for example. Even when help is voluntary, these laws do not mean that a person cannot ever be sued for performing CPR that goes wrong.
Most Good Samaritan laws call for the helping person to act in a prudential and responsible way. A medical professional who acts in an irresponsible way, or who can be shown to be inebriated while delivering care may still be subject to a lawsuit if the outcome of the help is not favorable. This can only occur when negligence can be proven.
In some cases, Good Samaritan laws may also apply to people without medical training, who attempt to act for the good of the person who might reasonably die without intervention or treatment. For example, a Good Samaritan pulls a person out of a burning car that has been involved in an accident. To not act would surely cause the person’s death, but acting might mean the car crash victim is then paralyzed.
In most cases, the person pulled out of the car could not sue his or her rescuer because of Good Samaritan laws, or simply because of good sense. If, however, the car is not burning and there is no imminent threat to the person in the car, moving the person could result in a lawsuit, since it is medically irresponsible to do so.
Most people wish to be a Good Samaritan in the event of an emergency, but an being in a state of emergency can heighten mistakes of people who are not trained. In an emergency, it is most important to only act when someone more qualified than one’s self is not present. For example a person with CPR training should give way to a doctor in a choking emergency, since a doctor is probably better at performing CPR.
To recklessly push aside the doctor and persist in performing CPR would be considered negligent and not prudent. It might result in a lawsuit should a death or major injury occur. Good Samaritan laws do not protect people against reckless behavior during an emergency even if one’s intentions are good.
Similar laws exist on the federal level as well. These laws protect grocery stores, food companies and individuals from liability if food donated to a shelter or food program for the poor makes people ill. These laws only apply when the donor acts in good faith and does not willfully donate foods that are known to be past their expiration date, damaged, or contaminated.