*****Disclaimer: This is not legal advice and is for educational purposes only. This does not create an attorney-client privilege.
Good Samaritan Laws are laws that give some level of protection to citizens who attempt to help someone, under certain circumstances. Americans have a reputation for being particularly litigious, and people are not as likely to attempt to help during times of distress if they believe they could face ramifications for it.
There are some common cases wherein Good Samaritan laws would likely apply, placing you under their somewhat limited protection. One scenario could be that someone was choking and you attempted the Heimlich maneuver on them. Without the protection offered by this legislation, the person who you attempted to might be able to successfully sue for damages if you break a rib or some other mishap occurs. Other examples might include helping someone who is drawing or has suffered a head injury after falling in public, among many, many others.
These laws are so important because they encourage and empower bystanders to help. Even with an ambulance on the way, often it can mean the difference between life and death whether a bystander is willing to offer immediate and temporary aid while first responders are still en route.
This protection can help you avoid lawsuits for an array of damages. Most obviously, it can protect you if you injure someone while taking life saving measures. For example, if you break someone's arm in the process of shoving them out of the way of a car that is about to hit them, you could not be held responsible for that broken bone.
However, the protection extends further than this. Did you know that the protection can even apply if your actions inadvertently contribute to a person's death or other injury? Say you try to give CPR to someone after inhaling water, and in the process actually break a rib and pierce their lung. Even if they die for reasons related to the injury you caused, Good Samaritan Laws can still be used to defend your case.
These Good Samaritan laws exist across the United States, as well as in Canada and other countries. Though this type of legislation is widely used, there is a high degree of variation in what exactly that legislation means or covers.
Some states take a broad approach to the protection offered. For example, in Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia, these laws protect any actions undertaken during a response to an emergency. Whereas in other areas, what kinds of actions are the people allowed to respond to emergency situations (with protection) are much more restrictive. In Oklahoma for example, these protections only cover emergency responses related to administering CPR or staunching blood loss. Or in places like Alabama, the protection from these laws only extends to trained and certified rescuers or to public educators in most circumstances.
This high degree of variability means it is definitely a good idea to be aware of what the laws are like in your state. Although, one would hope that ultimately you make your decisions based on what is needed and will prioritize saving a life over potential ramifications. But it is always advisable to be aware of the risk and your rights.
In California, our Good Samaritan law code reads as followers;
California: § 1799.102 states (a) No person who in good faith, and not for compensation, renders emergency medical or nonmedical care at the scene of an emergency shall be liable for any civil damages resulting from any act or omission. The scene of an emergency shall not include emergency departments and other places where medical care is usually offered. This subdivision applies only to the medical, law enforcement, and emergency personnel specified in this chapter. (b) (1) It is the intent of the Legislature to encourage other individuals to volunteer, without compensation, to assist others in need during an emergency, while ensuring that those volunteers who provide care or assistance act responsibly.
It is relevant to not that this law applies to both “acts and omissions”. This means it makes sure not only that you aren't held liable for actions that you did, but also for failure to, or a decision not to, act. So long as their is no evidence your actions were malicious, you will be protected. So do your best to help out and be a good Samaritan.