By Doyice Cotten
Every state has some form of Good Samaritan statute which is intended to provide immunity from liability for certain parties who voluntarily and gratuitously come to the aid of injured persons. Good Samaritan laws were developed to encourage both physicians and laymen to help others in emergency situations. These statutes, however, are not without limitation as Atco Raceway, Inc. found out in a New Jersey case (Cruz v. Atco Raceway, Inc., 2013).
Jose Cruz suffered severe burns in a drag racing crash when his car had engine failure and struck a wall. The raceway was in violation of safety statutes that provided that an ambulance and two EMTs be immediately available on site. The raceway argued that it had statutory immunity from New Jersey’s Good Samaritan Law. The law reads:
N.J.S.A. 26: 2K-29. Immunity
No EMT-intermediate, licensed physician, hospital or its board of trustees, officers and members of the medical staff, nurses or other employees of the hospital, or officers and members of a first aid, ambulance or rescue squad shall be liable for any civil damages as the result of an act or the omission of an act committed while in training for or in the rendering of intermediate life support services in good faith and in accordance with this act.
The court, however, ruled that the plaintiff’s argument did not protect because the statute does not apply to corporations that operate race tracks. The court cited Murray v. Plainfield Rescue Squad (2012) in which it was determined that the law did not protect a rescue squad, as an entity, from liability for negligence; the statute specifies protection for “officers and members,” not the squad as an entire unit.
Characteristics of Good Samaritan Statutes
Good Samaritan statutes vary greatly among states. Nevertheless, there are six common characteristics that are usually found in these state Good Samaritan statutes.
- Most define who is protected by the statute. More than 40 states offer protection to any person who comes to the aid of another in an emergency situation. Some states, however, restrict the immunity to healthcare personnel (physicians, surgeons, nurses, EMS personnel, physical therapists, and/or others); interestingly, other states completely exclude healthcare professionals from protection if the action is within the scope of the duty of the healthcare professional. Some restrict protection to those with first aid training.
- Many mandate that the protection is for those acting in good faith; in other words, one must be honestly trying to aid the person.
- There must be no remuneration or expectation of remuneration to qualify for protection.
- Almost all of the statutes specify that the action must occur in an emergency situation away from a medical facility. Some limit coverage to more specific situations (e.g., choking, crime victims, cardiopulmonary rescues, life-threatening situations, athletic events).
- Almost all statutes require that the care must be done at the scene of the accident, though some provide protection for action taken during transport.
- Virtually all of the statutes specify a standard of care required, however, the standard of care varies from state to state. A few states, including Arkansas, Florida, and Mississippi require that the acts of the volunteer be those of a reasonable and prudent person – in other words, the Samaritan can be liable if they are negligent. Most states, on the other hand, protect the volunteer from liability in the event of ordinary negligence; but not if the conduct of the rescuer is grossly negligent, reckless, or willful and wanton.
While Good Samaritan laws differ considerably among states, the typical statute asserts that any person who, in good faith, gratuitously renders emergency care at the scene of an accident cannot be held liable for injury resulting from acts and omissions unless the conduct constitutes gross negligence or willful/wanton conduct. It is, however, prudent for one to know the law in one’s own state. To read the Good Samaritan statute for your state, Google the state name and Good Samaritan statute.
Photo Credit: Thanks to Tirebiterz at Flickr.