Good Samaritan Laws
Good Samaritan laws are designed to protect those who choose to help others who are injured or ill. They are intended to reduce bystanders' hesitation to assist, for fear of being fined, sued or prosecuted for unintentional injury or wrongful death should they make a mistake. Good Samaritan laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, as do their interactions with various other legal principles, such as consent, parental rights and the right to refuse treatment. Such laws generally do not apply to medical professionals' or career emergency responders' on-the-job conduct, but some extend protection to professional rescuers when they are acting in a volunteer capacity.
In some jurisdictions, 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 require a person at the scene of an emergency to provide reasonable assistance to a person in need. This assistance may be to call 112 (the international emergency number). Violation of the duty-to-assist subdivision is a petty misdemeanour in Minnesota and may warrant a fine of up to $100 in Vermont. At least five other American states have considered adding duty-to-assist subdivisions to their Good Samaritan statutes. New York's law provides for immunity for those who assist in an emergency. The public policy behind the law is:
The furnishing of medical assistance in an emergency is a matter of vital concern affecting the public health, safety and welfare. Prehospital emergency medical care, the provision of prompt and effective communication among ambulances and hospitals[,] and safe and effective care and transportation of the sick and injured are essential public health services.
- N.Y. Public Health L. § 3000.
Good Samaritan provisions are not universal in application. The legal principle of imminent peril may also apply. In the absence of imminent peril, the actions of a rescuer may be perceived by the courts to be reckless and not worthy of protection. To illustrate, a motor vehicle collision occurs, but there is no fire, no immediate life threat from injuries and no danger of a second collision. If a 'good Samaritan' elects to 'rescue' the victim from the wreckage, causing paralysis or some other injury, a court may rule that Good Samaritan laws do not apply because the victim was not in imminent peril and hold the actions of the rescuer as 'reckless' and unnecessary.
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. Certain states make specific provisions for those trained medical professionals acting as volunteers and for members of volunteer rescue squads acting without expectation of financial compensation. In Texas, a physician who voluntarily assisted in the delivery of an infant, and who proved that he had "no expectation of remuneration", had no liability for the infant's injuries due to allegedly ordinary negligence; there was "uncontroverted testimony that neither he nor any doctor in Travis County would have charged a fee to [the mother] or any other person under the circumstances of this case." It was significant that the doctor was not an employee of the attending physician, but was only visiting the hospital yet had responded to a "Dr. Stork" page, and had neither expected to get paid nor actually billed the patients (mother and child).
If a responder begins rendering aid, he must not leave the scene until it is necessary to call for needed medical assistance, a rescuer of equal or higher ability takes over, or continuing to give aid is unsafe. 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 their level of training.
Consent may be implied if the patient is unconscious, delusional, intoxicated or deemed mentally unfit to make decisions regarding their safety or if the responder has 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). The test in most jurisdictions is that of the 'reasonable person'. To illustrate, would the reasonable person consent to life-saving assistance if he or she were able to make his or her own decision? Consent to life saving treatment may also be implied in the case of a minor if the legal parent or guardian is unable or unwilling to consent to such treatment.
Comparison with duty to rescue
Good Samaritan laws may be confused with the 'duty to rescue'. US and Canadian approaches to this issue differ. Under the common law, Good Samaritan laws provide a defence against torts arising from the 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" 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 Canada, all provinces with the exception of Quebec operate on the basis of English Common Law. Quebec operates a civil law system, based in part on the Napoleonic Code, and the principle of duty to rescue applies.
To illustrate a variation in the concept of duty to rescue, 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 when said work involves assisting people they are employed to help.