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What are Good Samaritan laws?

Good Samaritan laws, which are also known as "volunteer protection laws," are state laws that are enacted to protect healthcare providers and other rescue personnel from being sued as a result of providing help to a victim during an emergency situation. A good example is a law that provides immunity from liability to a an off-duty physician who stops to help someone on the side of the road. Generally speaking, as long as you use reasonable care in assisting a person during an emergency, based on the resources that you have available to you at the time, you cannot be sued for any injuries that the person sustains during the incident.

Good Samaritan Laws Vary

While Good Samaritan laws vary from state to state, these laws typically apply when you take purely voluntary, good-faith action to help another person at the scene of an emergency, and the person does not object to your help. If you provide help to another person under a Good Samaritan law, keep in mind that you must exercise the same standard of care and/or treatment that you normally help to in your profession. In other words, if you’re a trained medical professional, then you must act according to medical professional standards. However, if you are not trained in a medical professional, then your duty may be only to call for help or other forms of help, but not to render medical care or first aid. So long as you act reasonably in light of the circumstance, and in keeping with professional standards, you probably will not be liable in a jurisdiction that has enacted a Good Samaritan law. 
The mere existence of a Good Samaritan law, however, does not mean that you cannot be sued. If you act negligently or recklessly in light of applicable professional standards, you might still be liable for damages, despite a Good Samaritan law.  Plus, Good Samaritan laws are state laws, not federal laws. Therefore, a state Good Samaritan law will not protect you from liability in a federal civil rights lawsuit. Additionally, some versions of Good Samaritan laws may hold you liable if you do NOT act to assist another person during an emergency. In any case, you should be cautious about the type of assistance that you provide in an emergency situation, and be sure to act – or not act - in a manner that will not result in your liability under your state’s Good Samaritan law.

Good Samaritan laws & Employment Settings

Good Samaritan laws typically don’t extend to people who are giving medical care or treatment in the course of their employment. So, if you’re a nurse who works in a medical center, any action you take in an emergency would not be covered by a Good Samaritan law. Likewise, the class of people that a state’s Good Samaritan law protects differs. While most state Good Samaritan laws protect all people who give assistance in an emergency situation, some state Good Samaritan laws only protect certain classes of people, such as trained rescue personnel. Therefore, it is important to educate yourself as to whether your state’s Good Samaritan law would apply to you if you were faced with an emergency situation. 

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