Today marks Good Samaritan Day, a day that celebrates compassion and kindness. But before you pay it forward, make sure you're in the legal clear.
As odd as it may sound, there are certain situations in which lending a helping hand can potentially land you in legal trouble.
Here are five legal tips all do-gooders should keep in mind:
- Good Samaritan laws may give you legal cover. In jurisdictions with Good Samaritan laws, they act as a legal shield for individuals who risk the fray to save lives. Under this doctrine, rescuers can avoid civil liability for injuries arising from aid or rescue efforts, as long as the person's actions are reasonable and not reckless or grossly negligent.
- Good Samaritan laws have their limits. As stated above, there is a limit to Good Samaritan protection. Even a good faith effort to rescue an injured victim can land a rescuer in court if the acts she took to deliver aid are considered reckless. Generally, a rescuer can face liability for leaving a person worse off than before aid was rendered. Liability can also be found when the rescuer's negligence is what ultimately, and foreseeably, caused injuries to the person being rescued.
- New Good Samaritan laws cover drug overdose situations. At least 12 states have enacted protections for Good Samaritans in drug overdose cases. In these states, Good Samaritans can call 911 to report drug overdoses without fear of legal consequences for the caller or the drug-overdose victim. However, these laws don't necessarily prevent law enforcement from charging anyone with a crime using evidence that is unrelated to calling for medical aid. Civil liability can also exist if the rescuer acted recklessly.
- You can potentially get fired for being a Good Samaritan at work. Generally, "at-will" employees can be fired by employers on the spot for almost any reason. Good Samaritan laws do not protect Good Samaritans from being fired. One Michigan employee learned that the hard way when he was fired for leaving his post to help a customer extinguish his car fire.
- Activity-specific Good Samaritan laws exist. Some states have enacted statutes that protect specific emergency care or assistance. For example, Indiana protects the emergency care of veterinarians; Alabama extends immunity to helpers following the discharge of hazardous materials; some states protect those who assist with oil spill cleanup efforts.
To learn more about this topic, check out our Learn About the Law page on Good Samaritan Laws and specific legal duties. Happy Good Samaritan Day everyone!
- It's Good Samaritan Day: Celebrating compassion & kindness of strangers (Examiner.com)
- The California Supreme Court Holds that Good Samaritans Providing Nonmedical Aid Can Be Held Liable If They Act Negligently (FindLaw's Writ)
- Good Samaritan Finds Wallet, Gets Wallet's Owner Arrested (FindLaw's Legal Grounds)
- Taxi Rescue By MBTA Worker: What Is A Good Samaritan Law? (Boston Personal Injury News)