How Good Samaritan Laws Work

The Future of Good Samaritan Laws

While Good Samaritan laws aim to encourage people to help one another out, they're not perfect, as some of the previous examples show. Many of the laws only protect a select group of potential assisters, such as Michigan's law, which just covers medical personnel, "block parent volunteers" (parents who volunteer their homes as safe spaces for children) and members of the National Ski Patrol — unless, that is, you're giving CPR or using an emergency defibrillator. Others distinguish between a bystander providing help at the scene of an emergency or accident — protected — versus, say, helping someone who is being transported to the hospital, an action that is generally not covered under these laws [sources: Lee, Miller].

Since you can't be expected to know the Good Samaritan laws of every state or country you visit, you potentially face legal or criminal charges any time you try to lend a helping hand. That's not to say you should ignore those in need — if everyone did that, the world would lose its humanity. Plus, as mentioned, some states and countries actually penalize bystanders who refuse to assist another person in danger. Instead, experts say, keep in mind a few things if you stumble upon an emergency situation.

First, think sensibly. Most Good Samaritan laws protect people who try to help others through reasonable means. Second, don't attempt any kind of medical treatment or maneuver that you haven't been trained in or at least know something about. Call for professional help ASAP, and let them take over the minute they arrive. Don't accept any kind of gift or reward from the injured person, as many Good Samaritan laws expressly deny protection to those receiving compensation for their actions. And, as a precautionary measure, become familiar with the provisions of your own state's or country's Good Samaritan law [source: Thorpe].

With so many different types of Good Samaritan legislation in place, it appears these laws are here to stay. But in places like the U.S., where society is very litigious, it may be impossible to ensure that you're protected from a lawsuit any time you step in to help another person. That's when your decision whether to become involved or walk away will come down to your own kindness and compassion.

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