About five minutes into a nice meal at a local favorite restaurant, the server announced to the entire room that there was an emergency. Someone else in the venue needed a nurse or doctor immediately! How would laws of the United States protect an individual who does the potentially good deed? Civil law has historically supported the proposition, absent extenuating circumstances, that a person does not have a legal responsibility to assist, rescue or protect another person from harm. Exceptions exist, for instance parents of a child have a duty or an individual who caused an accident may be compelled to act.
Termed “Good Samaritan law,” because of the Biblical story recorded in the Book of Luke, most countries have some variation of it in existence today. In the parable, a man traveling from Jericho was stripped of his clothes and left by the roadside to die. Others did not help, but a passerby from Samaria paid for his shelter and care.
California first passed a law in 1959 to provide immunity to those who provide good faith medical treatment to those who would not otherwise receive it. Now, all states have similar laws to protect those people who are trying to offer aid and assistance during an emergency.
Healthcare providers have more training and experience than the general public and states offer varying degrees of immunity from prosecution for those who offer emergency assistance. Some states require individuals to render aid during an emergency; other states prohibit the healthcare providers from “willful and wanton” conduct or gross negligence. Most states have restricted their protection of the healthcare provider to those who do not take any form of compensation. For up-to-date information on a particular state’s Good Samaritan laws, go to www.heartsafeam.com/pages/faq_good_samaritan.
In light of Naples location near beaches, with many eating establishments and with a seasonal influx of tourists, the question arises of whether there is any protection for healthcare providers who volunteer to lend a helping hand during an emergency. Given the long tradition of nurses and doctors volunteering to assist in the care of injured during a natural disaster, or when someone is injured in an accident or during declared public health emergencies, powerful motivators exist to come to the aid of others when necessary .
Jane Cox PhD, ARNP is a nurse practitioner and Executive Director of NCH Community Home Care in Naples, FL. Her academic appointments include Instructor at Florida Gulf Coast University and Nova Southeastern.