Why we need Good Samaritan laws

Why we need Good Samaritan laws

One reason the sudden cardiac arrest mortality rate is so high is that so many go unwitnessed.  The “sudden” element of sudden cardiac arrest is a rapid loss of consciousness; there’s no time to call for help.

If no-one is nearby to see it happen, there is no-one to call emergency medical services and start CPR – and defibrillation, if there is an AED nearby -in those critical first minutes.

Those fortunate few who survive an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, did so because someone saw it happen, called for help, and gave treatment.  In other words, they started the Chain of Survival.

We call these people community first responders.  They’re also referred to as bystanders – which is an unjustifiably passive word for someone who is willing to help in an emergency.

Legally, they’re identified as Good Samaritans, after the Christian parable of the same name.

Good Samaritan laws

Many parts of the world have legal protections in place for Good Samaritans.

For example, in our home Australian State of New South Wales, Good Samaritans are defined as “…a person who, in good faith and without expectation of payment or other reward, comes to the assistance of a person who is apparently injured or at risk of being injured.”

So, a doctor or paramedic who is on duty at the time of attending an incident, is not considered a Good Samaritan.  If they attend an emergency while off-duty, on the other hand – they are considered to be Good Samaritans in the eyes of the law.

Related article: How GoodSAM is saving lives

Under Good Samaritan laws, a person can’t get into trouble for trying to help another person who is hurt, or at risk of being hurt.  This provided of course, that person didn’t cause the injury in the first place, or they didn’t make the situation worse because they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Many parts of the world including Canada, China, Germany, the UK and the US have Good Samaritan laws.  Some are civil, others are covered under criminal law.

These laws exist in recognition that anyone in peril has a right to assistance.  Some even stipulate that witnesses have a legal duty to help.

One example is Finland, where refusing to help someone you know is in danger can be a criminal act.  Quebec takes a similar stance; the duty to assist in an emergency is written into their Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

Why do we need Good Samaritan laws?

Best-selling First Aid Training author, John Haines talked to us recently about the many reasons why bystanders don’t help someone experiencing an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest.  Fear of legal liability was one of those reasons.

“What happens if I try to help, and something goes wrong?”

“What happens if I help, and they die anyway?”

“Does that make me responsible?”

These are fair questions, especially in litigious societies.

Good Samaritan laws exist to protect people with good intentions, and the courage to help.  These laws recognise the risks of helping – and that even if that help does not eventuate in a positive outcome, the Good Samaritan should not be penalised for their selfless actions.

Laws differ across jurisdictions, and there are grey areas.  In some parts of the US, for example, Good Samaritan laws only cover trained medical professionals or qualified first aiders.

It only takes a few moments online to discover the Good Samaritan laws covering your home region.  We need these laws to protect community first responders – because we know the folly of relying on others to help in an emergency.