A good samaritan in legal terms refers to someone who renders aid in an emergency to an injured person on a voluntary basis. Usually, if a volunteer comes to the aid of an injured or ill person who is a stranger, the person giving the aid owes the stranger a duty of being reasonably careful. A person is not obligated by law to do first aid in most states, not unless it's part of a job description. However, some states will consider it an act of negligence though, if a person doesn't at least call for help. Generally, where an unconscious victim cannot respond, a good samaritan can help them on the grounds of implied consent. However, if the victim is conscious and can respond, a person should ask their permission to help them first.
Some states offer immunity to good samaritans, but sometimes negligence could result in a claim of negligent care if the injuries or illness were made worse by the volunteer's negligence. Statutes typically don't exempt a good samaritan who acts in a willful and wanton or reckless manner in providing the care, advice, or assistance. Good samaritan laws often don't apply to a person rendering emergency care, advice, or assistance during the course or regular employment, such as services rendered by a health care provider to a patient in a health care facility.
Under the good samaritan laws which grant immunity, if the good samaritan makes an error while rendering emergency medical care, he or she cannot be held legally liable for damages in court. However, two conditions usually must be met; 1) the aid must be given at the scene of the emergency, and. 2) if the "volunteer" has other motives, such as the hope of being paid a fee or reward, then the law will not apply.
The following is an example of a state good samaritan statute:
- When any doctor of medicine or dentistry, nurse, member of any organized rescue squad, member of any police or fire department, member of any organized volunteer fire department, emergency medical technician, intern or resident practicing in a hospital with training programs approved by the American Medical Association, state trooper, medical aidman functioning as a part of the military assistance to safety and traffic program, chiropractor, or public education employee gratuitously and in good faith, renders first aid or emergency care at the scene of an accident, casualty, or disaster to a person injured therein, he or she shall not be liable for any civil damages as a result of his or her acts or omissions in rendering first aid or emergency care, nor shall he or she be liable for any civil damages as a result of any act or failure to act to provide or arrange for further medical treatment or care for the injured person.
- Any member of the crew of a helicopter which is used in the performance of military assistance to safety and traffic programs and is engaged in the performance of emergency medical service acts shall be exempt from personal liability for any property damages caused by helicopter downwash or by persons disembarking from the helicopter.
- When any physician gratuitously advises medical personnel at the scene of an emergency episode by direct voice contact, to render medical assistance based upon information received by voice or biotelemetry equipment, the actions ordered taken by the physician to sustain life or reduce disability shall not be considered liable when the actions are within the established medical procedures.
- Any person who is qualified by a federal or state agency to perform mine rescue planning and recovery operations, including mine rescue instructors and mine rescue team members, and any person designated by an operator furnishing a mine rescue team to supervise, assist in planning or provide service thereto, who, in good faith, performs or fails to perform any act or service in connection with mine rescue planning and recovery operations shall not be liable for any civil damages as a result of any acts or omissions. Nothing contained in this subsection shall be construed to exempt from liability any person responsible for an overall mine rescue operation, including an operator of an affected facility and any person assuming responsibility therefor under federal or state statutes or regulations.
- A person or entity, who in good faith and without compensation renders emergency care or treatment to a person suffering or appearing to suffer from cardiac arrest, which may include the use of an automated external defibrillator, shall be immune from civil liability for any personal injury as a result of care or treatment or as a result of any act or failure to act in providing or arranging further medical treatment where the person acts as an ordinary prudent person would have acted under the same or similar circumstances, except damages that may result for the gross negligence of the person rendering emergency care. This immunity shall extend to the licensed physician or medical authority who is involved in automated external defibrillator site placement, the person who provides training in CPR and the use of the automated external defibrillator, and the person or entity responsible for the site where the automated external defibrillator is located. This subsection specifically excludes from the provision of immunity any designers, manufacturers, or sellers of automated external defibrillators for any claims that may be brought against such entities based upon current law.
For example, te following is the Hawaii Good Samaritan Act
"Any person who in good faith renders emergency care, without renumeration or expectation of renumeration, at the scene of an accident or emergency to the victim of the accident or emergency shall not be liable for any civil damages resulting from the persons acts or omission, except for such damages as may result from the persons gross negligence or wanton acts or omissions."