Good Samaritan laws are intended to protect people from liability when they voluntarily assist others in emergencies.
Here is an example of how Good Samaritan laws work. Let’s say you’re driving to work and you witness a car accident. One of the vehicles flips over the driver is stuck and yelling for help. You pull over to help, but in extracting him from the car, you end up breaking his leg and causing other injuries.
Under traditional tort law, you could be liable for the driver’s injuries. The rationale was that you have no duty to render aid. But if you helped, you assumed a duty of helping safely and reasonably.
It is a well-established rule that ordinarily, in the absence of some special relationship, no legal duty rests on a member of the public to render services to an injured person. So you can immorally but legally let someone you could help suffer and die.
You don’t want to compound the risk of victims by making a law to discourage people from helping others in emergencies. So the Good Samaritan Doctrine was created to encourage assistance by bystanders and members of the general public in emergency situations.
Good Samaritan laws have a feeling of antiquity because of the origin of Good Samaritan. But they have really only been a part of our legislative landscape for the last 70 years. Every state today has adopted a Good Samaritan statute, which varies from state to state. Laws related to the statutes vary widely in their application and contain definitions of the types of individuals who qualify, the extent, and the circumstances under which the protection against negligent conduct applies.
What Is Required to Invoke the Good Samarian Defense?
The three key elements required to establish a successful claim by invoking the Good Samaritan doctrine in almost every state are:
- That the care was performed as the result of the emergency
- The initial emergency was not caused by the person invoking the doctrine, and
- the emergency care was not given in a grossly negligent or reckless manner.
What Is the Good Samaritan Law in Maryland?
Maryland’s Good Samaritan Act enacted in 1963 originally applied only for medical doctors who were providing aid without compensation in an emergency. Since then, the General Assembly has expanded the Act’s protections.
Maryland’s Good Samaritan law precludes civil liability to certain individuals providing emergency medical care. Here is the language of MD CTS & JUD PRO § 5-603 that gives us a definition and an explanation of who is covered by the law:
(a) A person described in subsection (b) of this section is not civilly liable for any act or omission in giving any assistance or medical care, if:
(1) The act or omission is not one of gross negligence;
(2) The assistance or medical care is provided without fee or other compensation; and
(3) The assistance or medical care is provided:
(i) At the scene of an emergency;
(ii) In transit to a medical facility; or
(iii) Through communications with personnel providing emergency assistance.
Licensed individuals or members of volunteer fire departments, ambulance and rescue squads, or law enforcement agencies
(b) Subsection (a) of this section applies to the following:
(1) An individual who is licensed by this State to provide medical care;
(2) A member of any State, county, municipal, or volunteer fire department, ambulance and rescue squad, or law enforcement agency, the National Ski Patrol System, or a corporate fire department responding to a call outside of its corporate premises, if the member:
(i) Has completed an American Red Cross course in advanced first aid and has a current card showing that status;
(ii) Has completed an equivalent of an American Red Cross course in advanced first aid, as determined by the Secretary of Health;
(iii) Is certified or licensed by this State as an emergency medical services provider; or
(iv) Is administering medications or treatment approved for use in response to an apparent drug overdose and the member is:
1. Licensed or certified as an emergency medical services provider by the State Emergency Medical Services Board and authorized to administer the medications and treatment under protocols established by the State Emergency Medical Services Board;
2. Certified to administer the medications and treatment under protocols established by the Secretary of Health; or
3. Certified to administer the medications and treatment under protocols established by the Maryland State Police Medical Director;
(3) A volunteer fire department or ambulance and rescue squad whose members have immunity; and
(4) A corporation when its fire department personnel are immune under item (2) of this subsection.
Reasonable and free assistance or aid
(c) An individual who is not covered otherwise by this section is not civilly liable for any act or omission in providing assistance or medical aid to a victim at the scene of an emergency, if:
(1) The assistance or aid is provided in a reasonably prudent manner;
(2) The assistance or aid is provided without fee or other compensation; and
(3) The individual relinquishes care of the victim when someone licensed or certified by this State to provide medical care or services becomes available to take responsibility.
So in Maryland, absent gross negligence, a list of “Good Samaritans” is protected when providing gratuitous assistance in emergencies. The list includes:
(1) State Licensed medical professionals; (2) members of any State, county, municipal or volunteer fire department, ambulance and rescue squads, National Ski Patrol, members of outside fire departments who have valid completion of an American Red Cross course in advanced first aid; and (3) any individual whose assistance is in an emergency is provided in a reasonably prudent manner, without being provided compensation, and the individual when available allows a licensed medical professional to provide the necessary care. MD. CODE ANN., CTS. & JUD. PROC. § 5-603(a).
Good Samaritan Laws are used by bystanders and members of the general public to avoid civil liability for negligence stemming from providing emergency assistance. These laws have been developed to encourage assistance and remove the imposition of civil liability. Good Samaritan Laws vary widely in their application, enumerating a list of persons and circumstances who qualify for immunity.
A Maryland Court of Special Appeals case helps to illustrate how the Good Samaritan Doctrine works in Maryland. In Muthukumarana v. Montgomery County, a wife called 911 following a domestic disturbance. While the 911 employee was getting information from the wife, the wife’s husband entered the house and hurt the couple’s two kids. Just awful. So the wife hired a lawyer for her and the children and filed a lawsuit alleging that the operator negligently failed to advise her timely and reasonably.
The wife maintained that it was unnecessary to determine whether a “special relationship,” existed because the “Good Samaritan doctrine” was triggered immediately by the operator’s action to assist her. The wife argued that in commencing assistance, and the operator’s lack of timely information, which increased the harm in the situation, it constituted gross negligence and liability.
The court applied the Maryland Good Samaritan statute, which provides that one who voluntarily renders services to another that she recognizes as necessary for the protection of the other’s person, is subject to liability for harm resulting from his failure to exercise reasonable care to perform his undertaking, if
(a) his failure to exercise such care increases the risk of such harm, or
(b) the harm is suffered because the other relies upon the undertaking.
The court ruled that under Maryland law, certain emergency medical care providers are “not civilly liable for any act in giving any assistance or medical care, if, the assistance is provided without fee or compensation․ Accordingly, the court found that a salaried emergency medical technician operating within the scope of his duties was entitled to the immunity provided in the statute.
The Good Samaritan Doctrine and Gross Negligence
Fully understanding the Good Samaritan Doctrine requires understanding the line separating negligence from gross negligence or recklessness. The doctrine establishes that services rendered in an emergency must not be grossly negligent. The line is often circumstantial. Negligence can generally be described as the failure to take proper care in a given situation.
On the other hand, gross negligence is considered more than an error of judgment; rather, it amounts to a failure to exercise even the slightest degree of care. According to the Supreme Court of Vermont, “Gross negligence is substantially and appreciably higher in magnitude and more culpable than ordinary negligence, it is an overt disregard of the legal duty respecting the rights of others.” Hardingham v. United Counseling Serv., 672 A.2d 480, 482 (Vt 1995).
What Is Gross Negligence in Maryland?
The Maryland Court of Appeals defines gross negligence as an “intentional failure to perform a manifest duty in reckless disregard of the consequences as affecting the life or property of another, and also implies a thoughtless disregard of the consequences without the exertion of any effort to avoid them.”
Said differently, because that definition is an utter mess, a wrongdoer is grossly negligent or acts wantonly and willfully if she inflicts injury intentionally or is so utterly indifferent to the rights of others that he acts as if such rights did not exist. This is fundamentally the exact definition as willful and wanton under Maryland law. Said even more plainly, it is not actual malice. But it is very close.
Federal Law Exempts Volunteers of Nonprofit and Government Entities
The Federal Volunteer Protection Act (VPA) is a law enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1997 to protect volunteers who provide services for nonprofit organizations or governmental entities from liability for harm caused by their acts or omissions. The statute is 42 USCS § 14503.
The VPA provides immunity from civil lawsuits to volunteers who are acting within the scope of their duties for a nonprofit organization or governmental entity, except in cases of willful or criminal misconduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct, or a conscious, flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of the person harmed.
The VPA also provides protection against liability for nonprofit organizations or governmental entities that may be held liable for the actions of their volunteers, if the volunteer is covered by the VPA.
The purpose of the VPA is to encourage volunteerism by providing protection against personal liability for individuals who provide services for nonprofit organizations or governmental entities. By reducing liability risk, the VPA aims to encourage more people to volunteer their time and services to benefit their communities without fearing personal financial consequences. If you are wondering how many people who did not volunteer because of fear of civil liability are now volunteering because of this protection… well, you are asking a good question.
The VPA only applies to civil lawsuits, and does not protect volunteers from criminal prosecution or other non-civil legal actions. Additionally, the VPA does not provide immunity from liability for individuals acting outside the scope of their duties or for harm caused by inherently dangerous or illegal activities.
Do Any States Require Bystanders to Render Assistance?
Five states have created an affirmative duty that requires bystanders in emergencies to render assistance. These five states, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire.
These statutes create a responsibility for members of the general public who are aware a person is suffering physical harm. These statutes require a bystander to provide reasonable assistance. This assistance must be provided a bystanders as long as it poses no danger to themselves, does not interfere with their duties owed to others, and the assistance must not already be provided by others. In these states rendering such required assistance would exempt the bystander’s assistants from civil liability, so long as their assistance is not grossly negligent. HAW. REV. STAT. § 663-1.6(a). MINN. STAT. § 604A.01(1), R.I. GEN. LAWS § 11-56-1 , VT. STAT. ANN. tit. 12, § 519(c). WIS. STAT. ANN § 940.34 (2) (A).
Does Maryland Law Provide Criminal Immunity for Good Samaritans?
There is another Good Samaritan law in Maryland that provides for immunity from criminal prosecution for a very different kind of Good Samaritan. Section 1-210(c) of the Criminal Procedure Article in Maryland provides:
A person who experiences a medical emergency after ingesting or using alcohol or drugs shall be immune from criminal prosecution for a violation of §§ 5-601, 5-619, 10-114, 10-116, and 10-117 of the Criminal Law Article if the evidence for the criminal prosecution was obtained solely as a result of another person’s seeking medical assistance.
The purpose of this law enacted in 2014, was to give immunity from prosecution if the evidence against the defendant was that she sought help in a medical emergency. The fear was drug users would not report an overdose if they feared prosecution. So the Maryland legislature, wisely, in my opinion, decided criminal prosecution was less critical than giving drug-using bystanders the ability to call 911 without fear of prosecution. So the legislature allowed immunity from some crimes to prevent overdose injuries and deaths.
What Are the Good Samaritan Laws in Every State?
Good Samaritan laws vary from state to state. Every state has some sort of Good Samaritan law. Below are Good Samaritan laws by state.
- NEW HAMPSHIRE
- NEW JERSEY
- NEW MEXICO
- NEW YORK
- NORTH CAROLINA
- NORTH DAKOTA
- RHODE ISLAND
- SOUTH CAROLINA
- SOUTH DAKOTA
- WEST VIRGINIA
- WASHINGTON D.C.