“Do you just walk by? Or do you stop to help?” Image from The Mesh Warrior Foundation
Nearly every country in the world has a Good Samaritan policy: the civic duty to help someone in need – whether it be an injured hiker, a lost child, or several injured persons at the scene of a car accident. You are almost always required to help in some way, even if that help is simply to call 911. Knowledge of a dangerous or life-threatening situation and failure to act is often seen as negligence or malpractice, even if you are not a trained medic or professional rescuer.
While the U.S. is no exception, the “Good Samaritan” laws – intended to protect someone acting in good faith to help someone in need – vary widely from state to state, and it pays to know when, and if, you are covered.
I know, I know…reaching out to help others should be second nature. Yes and no. Here’s some examples of when you might consider calling for help rather than becoming involved:
- Car accident at night during a blizzard – low visibility, freezing cold temperatures. You may be endangering yourself trying to help those who are directly involved. If you are the first on the scene, consider calling 911 before getting out of your car.
- When you are with children, and happen upon a dangerous situation. Consider their safety FIRST.
- At the scene of a violent crime…while this is not very common, consider whether the danger has passed, and if it is safe for you to assess the victims and call for help.
- If you can’t abide the site of blood and open wounds, or if you are mentally or emotionally unable to engage with others who are severely injured or in shock.
In brief, don’t be a martyr. Putting yourself in harms way to help others does little to alleviate the overall situation, and when the First Responders arrive, they have another potential victim to attend to.
Of course, the reason we have “Good Samaritan” laws is to protect someone acting in good faith to help others. If the person is injured further or dies while you are trying to help them, you may not be liable – you will, however, have to defend yourself in court, invoking the Good Samaritan statues of your state or province for protection.
Here’s how you CAN be a GOOD SAMARITAN:
- When you arrive on the scene, introduce yourself and say “I’m here to help.”
- Stay calm! Take a few deep breaths before stepping into the scene.
- Don’t ever put your bare hands on an open wound – tear a t-shirt and tie it over a wound to stop or slow bleeding.
- On that same note, never touch any bodily fluids with your bare skin.
- Engage any other non-injured people at the scene to collect information, call for help, document the incident. This is a golden tactic because when you arrive on scene, most folks will be in shock, and have no idea what to do. If you can stay calm, present, compassionate and confident in giving each person a specific duty the whole situation is helped immensely.
- Stay with the main victim (when possible). Keep them talking if they are conscious, reassure them that help is on the way, and that you will not leave them.
- Do not attempt CPR if you are not certified – you can’t learn it from the movies.
- On that same note, if you only get one basic medical training, get certified in CPR!
- Document everything – every time. If you are accident prone, or if for some cosmic reason you often find yourself the first one at the scene of an accident, document everything as thoroughly and quickly as you can and save your documentation. If you ever have to defend yourself in court, this documentation could help prove you were acting in good faith as a Good Samaritan.
Good Samaritan laws vary from state to state – some laws are several pages long, some are just a couple paragraphs. Here, for example, is the Good Samaritan law for Colorado:
GOOD SAMARITAN STATUTE -COLORADO REVISED STATUTES 13-21-108.
(1) Any person licensed as a physician and surgeon under the laws of the state of Colorado, or any other person, who in good faith renders emergency care or emergency assistance to a person not presently his patient without compensation at the place of an emergency or accident, including a health care institution as defined in section 13-64-202 (3), shall not be liable for any civil damages for acts or omissions made in good faith as a result of the rendering of such emergency care or emergency assistance during the emergency, unless the acts or omissions were grossly negligent or willful and wanton. This section shall not apply to any person who renders such emergency care or emergency assistance to a patient he is otherwise obligated to cover.
(2) Any person while acting as a volunteer member of a rescue unit, as defined in section 25-3.5-103 (11), C.R.S., notwithstanding the fact that such organization may recover actual costs incurred in the rendering of emergency care orassistance to a person, who in good faith renders emergency care or assistance without compensation at the place of an emergency or accident shall not be liable for any civil damages for acts or omissions in good faith.
(3) Any person, including a licensed physician, surgeon, or other medical personnel, while acting as a volunteer member of a ski patrol or ski area rescue unit, notwithstanding the fact that such person may receive free skiing privileges or other benefits as a result of his volunteer status, who in good faith renders emergency care or assistance without other compensation at the place of an emergency or accident shall not be liable for any civil damages for acts or omissions in good faith.
(5) An employer shall not be liable for any civil damages for acts or omissions made by an employee while renderingemergency care or emergency assistance if the employee:
(a) Renders the emergency care or emergency assistance in the course of his or her employment for the employer; and (b) Is personally exempt from liability for civil damages for the acts or omissions under subsection (1) of this section.
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