Good Samaritan Laws and Negligence
There is an unfortunate phenomenon occurring around America. In an age where people are calling any personal injury lawyer they know and threatening lawsuits left and right for even the smallest infractions, citizens have become overly afraid of being sued. This has led to a harmful reverse effect in which citizens fail to perform their duties as responsible members of society due to fear of legal retaliation. To clear the air of what the courts will and will not hold a citizen acting in good faith liable for, state lawmakers created Good Samaritan laws.
What Constitutes “Good Samaritan?”
Good Samaritan laws differ from state to state. In Massachusetts, a “Good Samaritan” is someone who takes a good faith, voluntary action to help another person at the scene of an emergency. As long as the individual honestly thought he or she was helping the victim, and the victim didn’t object to helping, the courts will not hold the Good Samaritan responsible for damages.
A classic example of Good Samaritan laws in action is if you were to help a victim of a car accident in good faith, but he or she sustained worsened injuries because of your actions. A car in front of you flipped and fell into a ditch filled with water, and now a woman and her children are trapped in the vehicle and at risk of drowning. You decide to step in to save the family, pulling them out of the car before it sinks. You didn’t realize that one child had suffered a spinal cord injury in the crash and that by moving her you severed her spine. Now the child is paralyzed and the mother wants to sue you for damages.
Thanks to Good Samaritan laws, the mother would not have a case against you, despite your exacerbation of the child’s injuries. The laws in Massachusetts protect people in this scenario if they acted in a way that a reasonable and prudent person would have in similar circumstances. You fulfilled the four elements of Good Samaritan law:
- You rendered aid to the child in an emergency on a voluntary basis.
- You lived up to your duty to be reasonably careful and did not carelessly or negligently worsen the child’s injuries.
- The child or mother did not object to your help.
- You acted in good faith with no ulterior motives.
Accusations of negligence may come into play in Good Samaritan cases where a citizen should have rendered aid in an emergency situation but failed to do so for fear of adverse legal repercussions.
Negligence: Failing to Be a Good Samaritan
In some situations, a person in Massachusetts can face charges of negligence for failing to be a Good Samaritan. Every person has a duty to provide reasonable care when necessary to prevent harm to another person. Standing idly by and watching the mother and her two children drown when you could have helped is an example of a case in which a family member, say the woman’s husband, could potentially sue you for negligence.
For a person to sue another person for negligence based on the state’s Good Samaritan laws, the plaintiff would need proof that the defendant faced an emergency situation, could have done something to reasonably prevent catastrophic injury or death, and chose to do nothing. Defenses to charges of Good Samaritan negligence could be that you most likely would have died had you interfered, you had good faith reason to believe the victims were already dead, or that you acted reasonably according to the circumstances.
Good Samaritan and related negligence lawsuits depend heavily on the circumstances of the incident. Best practice is to trust your moral compass in emergency situations and act in a way that a reasonable and prudent person would in similar circumstances.