Good Samaritan law

Good Samaritan law

Good Samaritan laws (acts) in the United States and Canada are laws/acts protecting from blame 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.

Under the common law, Good Samaritan laws provide a defence against torts over the activity of 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 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. In some cases, laypersons are only protected when rendering aid in narrow circumstances, such as during a declared public health emergency.

General guidelines

#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 include a duty to assist subdivision requiring 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 are considering duty to assist subdivisions of their Good Samaritan Statutes.
#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.
#If aid begins, the responder must not leave the scene until:
#*it is necessary to call for needed medical assistance.
#*somebody of equal or higher ability can take over.
#*continuing to give aid is unsafe (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 can never be forced to put himself or herself in danger to aid another person.
#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 his level of training.


The responder must not commit assault by giving aid to a patient without consent of the patient (or of the patient's legal parent or guardian if the patient is under 18 years old).

Implied consent

Consent may be implied if the patient is unconscious, delusional, intoxicated, deemed mentally unfit to make decisions regarding their safety, or if the responder had 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).

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 not an adult (warning: definitions vary), consent must come from the legal parent or guardian. However, if the legal parent or guardian is absent, unconscious, delusional or intoxicated, consent is implied (with the same caveat as above). A responder may not withhold life-saving treatment (CPR, the Heimlich Maneuver) if the parent/guardian will not consent. The parent/guardian is then considered neglecting, and treatment is implied. Special circumstances may exist if child abuse is suspected.

Laws for first aiders only

In most jurisdictions, Good Samaritan laws only protect those that have had basic first aid training and are certified by the American Heart Association, American Red Cross, St. John Ambulance, American Safety and Health Institute or other health organization. In other jurisdictions, any rescuer is protected from liability, granted the responder acted rationally. If one is neither trained in first aid nor certified, and performs first aid incorrectly, one can still be held liable.

In Canada

In Canada, Good Samaritan Acts are a provincial power. Here is a list of several of the provincial acts:

#Ontario - Good Samaritan Act, 2001 [cite web|url=|title=Good Samaritan Act, S.O., 2001 (Ontario E-laws website)|accessdate=2008-10-10]
#Alberta - Emergency Medical Aid Act [cite web|url=|title=Emergency Medical Aid Act (Alberta Queen's Printer website|accessdate=2008-10-10]
#British Columbia - Good Samaritan Act [cite web|url=|title=Good Samaritan Act [RSBC 1996] CHAPTER 172 (British Columbia Queen's Printer website)|accessdate=2008-10-10]
#Nova Scotia - Volunteer Services Act [cite web|url=|title=Volunteer Services Act 'Good Samaritan' RSNS 1989 (amend. 1992) (Nova Scotia Legislature website)|accessdate=2008-10-10]

Only in Quebec, a civil law jurisdiction, does a person have a general duty to respond if first-aid or medically certified.cite web | title=Good Samaritan Law from The Canadian Association of Food Banks | url= |accessdate=December 26 | accessyear=2005 ] 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).cite web | title=Good Samaritan Act, 2001 ©Queen's Printer for Ontario, 2005 | url= | accessdate=December 26 | accessyear=2005]

Paramedics in Ontario perform what is referred to as an Aid to Capacity Evaluation in the event that treatment and/or transport to a medical facility is refused. The evaluation also includes an indication to whom the assessment refers if not the patient (e.g.: parent, or substitute decision maker). The patient or substitute is requested to verbalize/communicate understanding of clinical situation, appreciation of applicable risks, ability to make an alternative plan for care and a responsible adult on scene. Any negative response to the above would indicate a requirement of consideration of incapacity and necessary intervention would occur. Finally, paramedics request a signature for refusal of service: "I have been advised that I should have treatment and that treatment is available immediately, I refuse such treatment and transportation to hospital having been informed of the risks involved. I assume full responsibility arising out of such refusal." [cite web|url=|title=Ambulance Act O.Reg.257/00 - Ontario Ambulance Documentation Standards|accessdate=2008-10-10]

Confusion with duty to rescue

Good Samaritan laws may be confused with the duty to rescue, as described above. There are, in fact, variations between the U.S. and Canadian approach to this issue. To illustrate, 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. [cite web|url=|title=Occupational Health and Safety Act, R.S.O. (1990) (Ontario E-laws website)|accessdate=2008-10-10]

In popular culture

A Good Samaritan law was featured in the May 1998 series finale of the popular NBC sitcom "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 Massachusetts (where the fictional crime was committed) does have a law requiring passers-by 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 that Seinfeld and his friends were prosecuted for.cite web | title=Footnote TV's® Mirror Law™ analysis of the Seinfeld finale and Massachusetts' Good Samaritan Law| url= |accessmonthday=July 13 | accessyear=2006 ]

The fact that Good Samaritan Laws in most states do not include a citizen's duty to assist, was featured in an episode of the second season of the show "Desperate Housewives". Character Bree Van de Kamp is threatened by her son to be exposed for having stood by while a man she used to have an affair with committed suicide. She hires a lawyer who explains that she specifically was not under any requirement to assist this person.

ee also

* Duty to rescue
* Bystander effect


External links

* [ Summary of good samaritan laws for various US juristictions]
* [ Good Samaritan Act of Ontario, 2001]

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Parable of the Good Samaritan — The Parable of the Good Samaritan is a New Testament parable appearing only in the Gospel of Luke . [. The stricken figure in the parable represents all those who are spiritually sick, such as the gentiles and the sinners. That it was a priest… …   Wikipedia

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