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.
Author's Note: How Good Samaritan Laws Work
This is a really thought-provoking topic. Most of us likely are in favor of helping someone who is injured, sick or in trouble. And the majority of us would likely do so with only the best of intentions. But if we were injured, and someone trying to help us actually caused further harm, how would we react? Would we be charitable toward our rescuer and forgive him, or would we turn on the person and sue?
I'd sure like to think I'd never sue someone who tried to help me, even if the result was something devastating like Alexandra Van Horn's paralysis. Far better to err on the side of helping — being a caring human being — than ignoring someone in distress because we fear for ourselves. But would I think differently if I were a single parent with limited resources? How would I weigh the risks of messing up a rescue and possibly being sued and financially ruined — which would have a devastating impact on my kids — with helping another human? Would I even ponder any of this if I came upon someone who was hurt, or would basic human instincts toward charity kick in?
Looking at this dispassionately, I'm weighing in decisively for helping those in distress. But I totally realize that it's not possible to be dispassionate if you're one of the people involved in a Good Samaritan incident gone awry.
More Great Links
- American Tort Reform Association. "CA Reforms." (Nov. 8, 2016) http://www.atra.org/legislation/CA
- Christian Bible Reference Site. "The Good Samaritan." (Nov. 7, 2016) http://www.christianbiblereference.org/story_GoodSamaritan.htm
- Courthouse News. "In The Supreme Court Of California." Dec. 18, 2008. (Nov. 8, 2016) http://www.courthousenews.com/2014/08/13/watsonhorn.pdf
- CPR Instructor. "Vermont Good Samaritan Act." (Nov. 7, 2016) http://www.cprinstructor.com/VT-GS.htm
- Crowe, Earl. "What Is the Good Samaritan Law? – Definition, History & Cases." Study. (Nov. 4, 2016) http://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-the-good-samaritan-law-definition-history-cases.html
- Drug Policy Alliance. "Which States Have 911 Good Samaritan Laws and/or Naloxone Access Laws?" Jan. 25, 2016. (Nov. 7, 2016) http://www.drugpolicy.org/resource/which-states-have-911-good-samaritan-laws-andor-naloxone-access-laws
- Food Donation Connection. "United States legal liability issues." (Nov. 10, 2016) http://www.foodtodonate.com/Fdcmain/LegalLiabilities.aspx
- Kaiman, Jonathan. "In China, an insurance policy for good Samaritans who get sued." Los Angeles Times. Oct. 20, 2015. (Nov. 8, 2016) http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-china-good-samaritans-20151020-story.html
- Lee, Tiffany. "The Good Samaritan in Law and Practice." Dec. 17, 2015. (Nov. 8, 2016) http://www.epijournal.com/articles/242/the-good-samaritan-in-law-and-practice
- Lewis, Deborah and Timothy Marchell. "Safety first: A medical amnesty approach to alcohol poisoning at a U.S. university." The International Journal of Drug Policy. July 2, 2006. (Nov. 9, 2016) http://www.ijdp.org/article/S0955-3959(06)00039-9/abstract
- Martinsen, Joel. "A 45,000-yuan helping hand: common sense, decency, and public transportation." Danwei. Sept. 7, 2007. (Nov. 10, 2016) http://www.danwei.org/law/common_sense_decency_and_crowd.php
- Miller, Shauna. "The Sorry State of 'Good Samaritan' Laws." City Lab. Jan. 27, 2015. (Nov. 7, 2016) http://www.citylab.com/crime/2015/01/the-sorry-state-of-good-samaritan-laws/384793/
- Shatterproof. "Good Samaritan Laws." (Nov. 9, 2016) http://www.shatterproof.org/pages/good-samaritan-laws
- The Medical Amnesty Initiative. (Nov. 9, 2016) http://www.medicalamnesty.org/
- The Oklahoma State Courts Network. "Oklahoma Statutes Citationized." (Nov. 7, 2016) http://www.oscn.net/applications/oscn/deliverdocument.asp?id=72826&hits=
- Thorpe, Steve. "Safe to be a Good Samaritan?" Legal News. May 8, 2013. (Nov. 10, 2016) http://www.legalnews.com/detroit/1375748
- United States Government Publishing Office. "Public Law 104-210—Oct. 1, 1996." Oct. 1, 1996. (Nov. 10, 2016) https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-104publ210/pdf/PLAW-104publ210.pdf
- Weinstein, Susan. "Commentary: Naloxone Access and Good Samaritan Overdose Protection Laws Abound in State Legislatures." Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. June 24, 2015. (Nov. 9, 2016) http://www.drugfree.org/news-service/commentary-naloxone-access-good-samaritan-overdose-protection-laws-abound-state-legislatures/
- Worthen, Meredith. "Kitty Genovese Biography." Biography. April 5, 2016. (Nov. 7, 2016) http://www.biography.com/people/kitty-genovese-120415