As you spin out of the revolving door, enthusiastically stepping out of work and into the weekend, a bicycle messenger whizzes by at warp speed. Almost before it happens, you hear the awful squeal of car tires and crunch of metal. Running over, you realize that the biker – a kid not more than 20 – is slumped over the curb, motionless. Someone has called 911, but it’s clear he needs emergency attention immediately. You have been trained in CPR and first aid. What do you do?
Do you worry you might get sued if you intervene? Good news for you, and the biker: many states, including New Jersey and New York, have what’s called “Good Samaritan laws” to protect “first responders” at injury occurrences.
Good Samaritan laws encourage helpfulness
In many emergency situations – whether injuries or health emergencies like heart attacks, choking, or allergic reactions – seconds are priceless. A delay in emergency treatment can mean the difference between life and death. According to the American Heart Association, if bystander CPR isn’t provided, a sudden cardiac arrest victim’s chance of survival falls 7 to 10 percent for every minute of delay until defibrillation.
Unfortunately, the increase in scope and breadth of litigation in our society started to mean that even well-intentioned first responders found themselves facing lawsuits if the injured or ill person did not recover. This started to make people shy away from helping others in an emergency – something that no society wants to discourage.
Good Samaritan laws were proposed to combat just that problem. Named for the Biblical parable about a traveler who helps an injured man along his journey, these laws protect people from liability during rescue attempts and encourage them to help out without fear of being sued. Every state has some form of a Good Samaritan law or act, but their specific protections and exceptions vary.
Do I have to help?
In most states, you have no duty to help someone in need, even if you can do so without harm to yourself, and even if they will clearly die without your assistance. In some areas, however, like Vermont and Minnesota, Good Samaritan laws require someone at the scene of an emergency to offer assistance; not helping an accident or crime victim can be punishable by law.
In the other states, however, Good Samaritan laws are designed to protect rescuers who aid a victim voluntarily, without any expectation of reward. Rescuers who are “on the job” doing rescue work (on-duty firefighters, EMTs, etc.) are typically held to the standard of care of their jobs and can be sued if they breach that duty. If they are off duty, however, some states grant doctors, nurses, EMTs, etc. the same protection from liability as any other responder, so long as they follow normal procedures and are providing free emergency medical assistance outside their normal employment or practice.
Good Samaritan Laws in New Jersey and New York
New Jersey and New York have similar Good Samaritan laws. These provide that any person with CPR training, acting in good faith and with reasonable care, who voluntarily and without expectation of monetary compensation renders emergency treatment at the scene of an accident, shall not be liable for damages, injuries, or death alleged to have occurred as a result of such emergency treatment.
The immunity doesn’t apply to “gross, willful, or wanton negligence,” which means that if, as you are responding, you do something really egregious to cause them injury (outside of the usual good faith and reasonable care), you could still be sued.
“Gross negligence” generally means a reckless action that is taken without regard for the safety of others while “willful misconduct” is an action that is reasonably likely to cause an injury to another person.
Good Samaritan laws in New York and New Jersey also protect doctors, nurses, and other healthcare practitioners who voluntarily render medical assistance without expectation of monetary compensation outside their normal employment or practice.
Summer is almost here, and it’s a great time to look into CPR training through your local Red Cross, park district, or community center. Being prepared is always a good idea! Click the link below to download our Newark personal injury lawyers' FREE guide to what you should do if, despite your best efforts, you or a loved one is injured in an accident.
If you have suffered a personal injury, contact The Mark Law Firm for a free personal injury consultation with one of our experienced Newark, Oradell, and Basking Ridge personal injury lawyers. Our New Jersey personal injury lawyers have experience with car accident, bicycle accident, and other personal injury lawsuits and will schedule your personal injury free consultation immediately!