Good Samaritan laws were created to protect people who offer aid to someone who is injured, sick, or in physical danger. Specifically, these laws provide legal protection from liability if you unintentionally cause harm to someone you give assistance to when they are in distress.

The term “Good Samaritan” comes from a New Testament parable about a traveler who is ambushed by bandits, robbed and beaten, and left half dead on the side of the road. One man and then another come upon the wounded man, but both pass by on the other side of the road, not wanting to get involved.

A third passerby sees the injured man and promptly treats his wounds, takes him to an inn, and pays for the man’s stay while he recuperates.

From this parable, we now have the modern term Good Samaritan which is synonymous with “a charitable or helpful person,” according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary.

Some variation of Good Samaritan law exists in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The laws vary from state to state, but their intent is the same: to prevent people from hesitating to help each other in a time of crisis, due to the fear of legal action if there is an unfortunate outcome.

What do Good Samaritan Laws Have in Common?

Good Samaritan laws are created and enforced at the state level, and there are variations in these laws between different states. However, there are some commonalities found in these laws in most areas of the country. These commonalities include the following:

  • You must have consent of the person you want to help; in the case of a minor, you must get a parent’s or legal guardian’s consent. This consent is different from a Child Medical Consent form, which only gives a specified caretaker permission to seek out and approve medical treatment for a minor.
  • Implied consent exists if the injured or endangered person is unconscious, or otherwise mentally incapable of making decisions on their own behalf.
  • Implied consent also exists if helping a minor who has no parent or legal guardian present.
  • The law only covers offering “a reasonable level of care” to someone. Performing impromptu surgery on someone when you are not a doctor could be considered to be an unreasonable level of care.

How do Good Samaritan Laws Differ Between States?

As noted earlier, there are differences in Good Samaritan laws between the 50 US states. For example, if you perform CPR on a victim and are not officially trained and certified to do so, you may be legally liable if the person suffers additional injuries or dies. It all depends on which state the event takes place in.

Another variance involves how Good Samaritan laws apply to first responders such as EMTs and firefighters. In some states, these professionals are protected by Good Samaritan laws; in other states, first responders are exempt from such laws.

Finally, there is the legal concept of imminent peril. Imminent peril is when a person is in impending danger from a near immediate threat. If someone is in imminent peril, the more likely it is the relevant Good Samaritan law will apply to anyone who offers assistance.

A classic example of imminent peril is a vehicle accident where there is no fire or impending threat of greater danger. Let’s say you went to one of the vehicles involved in the accident and pulled the driver out through the side window, causing secondary injuries to the driver’s neck and back while extracting them. Because there was no imminent peril, a court could decide that the Good Samaritan law doesn’t apply to your actions, and make you legally liable for the driver’s additional injuries.

Good Samaritan Laws Can Help Save Lives

Most good-hearted people would not hesitate to offer aid to someone who is injured or in physical distress. However, in today’s litigious environment, it is reassuring to know there are Good Samaritan laws in place to protect people who are willing to step in and help others in an emergency situation.

Posted by Aaron Axline

Aaron Axline is an author, technology journalist, blogger, and knowledge management expert.