The Good Samaritan & The Law

There’s a saying that “no good deed goes unpunished” and that may seem true in this day and age where many people look out mainly for themselves and take advantage of those who are generous and quick to lend a hand. Even the law imposes obligations just because someone wants to be helpful. Under the general law of negligence, “once a person acts to mitigate a potential hazard to another, he will be liable for harm resulting from a failure to exercise reasonable care, even where no preexisting duty to act was owed.”  The result of this doctrine is that a would-be rescuer at the scene of a crisis or accident who stops to help, like the biblical Samaritan who stopped to help a man who had been beaten and bloodied by robbers, is at risk of being sued for damages by the person assisted should something go wrong.

However, to encourage people to help their fellow man in a crisis or accident and balance against the sometimes harsh legal consequences from trying to help, Massachusetts has adopted several Good Samaritan laws, including G.L. c. 112, section 12V which states that “[a]ny person who, in good faith, attempts to render emergency care . . . and does so without compensation, shall not be liable for acts or omissions, other than gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct, resulting from the attempt to render such emergency care.” The statute won’t protect someone from being sued, but the standard of gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct is considerably higher than ordinary negligence and should afford some security from liability for well-intended acts of kindness.  Massachusetts also has specific statutes providing immunity from liability to emergency responders, school officials, physicians providing advice to emergency personnel, physicians providing emergency care themselves, for emergency care provided to minors without parental consent, and veterinarians. In a similar vein, Massachusetts also has a statute providing immunity from criminal prosecution to anyone who seeks medical assistance for themselves or another person who is experiencing a drug-related overdose.

All states have some type of Good Samaritan law, but they vary widely. Some states only provide protection from liability to trained health-care personnel, police, firemen and/or teachers. Other states limit the circumstances under which someone can claim protection, such as for assistance during a cardiac arrest. The Federal Maritime Good Samaritan Doctrine requires that to prevail on a theory of negligent rescue, a plaintiff must show both that the rescuer acted negligently and worsened the victim’s condition.

Good Samaritan laws may not assure that no good deed will go unpunished, but they are, at least, evidence we collectively value those strangers who, for no other reason than a desire to help, come to the aid of others.

To learn more about MA Good Samaritan laws or to find out if you’re entitled to compensation for a related personal injury claim, contact Attorney Bob Allison.  You may call him at 978-740-9433 or fill out an online contact form.  We will set up a free consultation with you to discuss your case.