What is the Good Samaritan law?
Here in Georgia and across the South, many of us pride ourselves in being from tight knit communities and being willing to lend a helping hand to our neighbors when they need it. We all want to be a good Samaritan to help others in need and would appreciate them helping us also. But, what is the Good Samaritan law?
At the same time, some people are rightfully afraid to offer such assistance. Understandably, there is a fear of not knowing what to do in certain emergencies. After all, the last thing you want to do is accidentally make matters worse by further injuring someone because you intervened. Some people fear getting involved at all because they don’t want to get sued.
Fortunately, Georgia (and many other states) has enacted certain laws to protect helpers by shielding them from liability in certain circumstances. These laws provide a certain level of legal protection to those providing reasonable care to anyone found incapacitated, injured, or ill.
Continue reading to learn more about Georgia’s Good Samaritan law.
What is a Good Samaritan?
The historical roots of Good Samaritan laws are found in the Christian Bible. In the book of Luke, there’s a parable of a man who was assaulted and robbed by bandits and then left for dead on the side of the road.
The story goes as follows:
“(30) …Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. (31) A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. (32) So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. (33) But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. (34) He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. (35) The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’” (Luke 10:30-35)
While the priest and the Levite chose to provide no aid to the man, the Samaritan (called such because he was from Samaria) provided care for the injured man.
In the legal world, a Good Samaritan is an individual who helps another injured person outside of their job and without the aim of receiving compensation or a reward.
Each state defines a Good Samaritan slightly differently, but most Good Samaritan laws (including Georgia’s) have 2 things in common:
- The rescuer wasn’t compensated. Generally, this means that the rescuer is not to receive any kind of gift or reward from the injured person.
- The rescuer acted in good faith. A rescuer cannot act either recklessly or with intentional misconduct. If they do, Good Samaritan laws will not apply.
Most states expressly deny any protection provided by a Good Samaritan law if either of these 2 provisions are violated.
What is the purpose of Good Samaritan laws?
The average person isn’t a trained medical provider, meaning it’s understandable that they may not know the correct thing to do in certain medical emergencies.
So what if your good faith intentions actually caused more injuries? Can you be held liable?
These are real concerns that cross the minds of many people who encounter or witness an accident. Fortunately, Georgia’s Good Samaritan law legally protects individuals who were trying to help before trained professionals arrive.
Georgia’s Good Samaritan law (O.C.G.A. 51-1-29) was passed in 1962 and reads as follows.
“Any person, including any person licensed to practice medicine and surgery pursuant to Article 2 of Chapter 34 of Title 43 and including any person licensed to render services ancillary thereto, who in good faith renders emergency care at the scene of an accident or emergency to the victim or victims thereof without making any charge therefore shall not be liable for any civil damages as a result of any act or omission by such person in rendering emergency care or as a result of any act or failure to act to provide or arrange for further medical treatment or care for the injured person.”
As stated above, Georgia’s Good Samaritan Law protects the rescuer but also stipulates the 2 necessary provisions.
In short, to be considered a Good Samaritan in Georgia, one must act in good faith and receive no compensation for their help.
But this often raises more questions:
- What does it mean to act in good faith?
- How can someone else know when I am providing the best help I know how to give?
- What is considered “compensation”?
These stipulations occasionally leave the door open to being sued. Let’s look at some general responses to these concerns that may help relieve some of your worries.
What Good Samaritans should (and should not) do in Georgia
When responding to help an injured or incapacitated victim, it may be helpful to keep in mind these guidelines below.
1. Calmly consider the situation
First, take a moment to assess the circumstances. Don’t rush into the situation in a state of panic. Take a breath, think rationally and act sensibly. Remember, Good Samaritan laws are here to protect those who really want to offer help. But be conservative in your approach. A thoughtless and reckless determination to help could be held against you later.
2. Call for professional help
Second, call for professional help as quickly as possible. Don’t take on the entire burden of helping an injured victim with no assistance. Always call 911, or ask someone nearby to do so while you administer care. Provide the 911 operator with your exact location and the nature of the emergency.
3. Stay within your abilities
Third, don’t attempt to perform any kind of medical procedure in which you have no training. This being said, in certain extreme circumstances, you may be guided by a 911 operator to perform certain tasks you’ve never done before. In that case, the 911 operator is trained. This is not a case of you making medical decisions about what the victim needs. If you are willing and able, you should follow all of the instructions provided by the 911 operator on what to do.
4. Don’t accept compensation
With respect to receiving compensation for your act as a Good Samaritan, the best rule of thumb is to never accept anything from anyone for what you did. Don’t take any gift, reward, or anything else that could later be construed as you receiving compensation. Keep in mind that there is always the off-chance that the injured party you helped save could turn on you later and accuse you of harming them. To keep the protection of the Good Samaritan law on your side, it is best that you simply accept no gifts or compensation.
Good Samaritans Versus Paid Professionals
As previously mentioned, the necessary provisions for Good Samaritan law to apply are that the individual providing emergency aid acted in good faith and that they received no compensation. Therefore, if an off-duty nurse witnesses an automobile accident and renders medical aid, they qualify to be protected under Georgia’s Good Samaritan law since they both acted in good faith and received no compensation.
However, if a responding paramedic is dispatched to the same accident scene, Georgia’s Good Samaritan law would NOT apply to that medical provider. The responding paramedic is not merely acting in good faith to an emergency they happened to see. On the contrary, it’s in the paramedic’s job description to arrive at the accident scene timely and provide appropriate medical care consistent with their current level of medical training.
Furthermore, paramedics responding to an emergency while in the scope of employment are paid professionals. Therefore, they are disqualified from the protective benefits of Georgia’s Good Samaritan law.
When Good Samaritans Are Injured, Too
If you are the Good Samaritan who tried to help someone but became injured in the process, Georgia’s Good Samaritan law is there only to protect you from being sued by the person you were trying to help. This law does not provide you with grounds for an injury claim. Good Samaritan laws are strictly created for the legal protection to the person attempting to render aid.
Let’s look at an example:
Imagine you’re driving a large tractor-trailer truck down an interstate during a rainstorm. There are 2 lanes of traffic on your side of the road and 2 lanes of traffic going in the opposite direction, with a grassy median between the 4 lanes.
As you are driving, you notice up ahead a car that is spinning out of control on the wet road. The spinning car eventually comes to rest in the muddy grass median. You pull your large truck over to the right-hand shoulder in order to give aid to the driver of the car.
You exit the cab of your truck, step down, and turn to cross the road. As you do so, a speeding car is driving on the outside lane and you are hit.
In this example, Georgia’s Good Samaritan law would have nothing to do with the liability claim you now have against the speeding driver who hit you. Again, Georgia’s Good Samaritan law would only apply to protect you against legal action from the driver of the car that spun out in the grassy median. The fact that you were in the midst of acting as a Good Samaritan is irrelevant with respect to the duty owed by the speeding driver to maintain proper lookout.
Who is liable for your accident injuries?
If you or a loved one were further injured by the care provided at that scene of an accident, it is important to know that a thorough investigation is needed to determine who caused your additional injuries.
Georgia’s Good Samaritan law will protect a member of the general public as long as their actions were in good faith and not reckless.
But sometimes the acts of a member of the general public are questionable. That’s why Georgia law specifies this provision. In order for a Good Samaritan to be held liable for your additional injuries, their actions would have to be extremely bad as well as provable. But where witnesses may exist, this may not be hard to prove. Therefore, be thoughtful before you hastily conclude that no “gross negligence” exists against a supposed Good Samaritan.
Additionally, in cases where an accident victim suffered further injuries because of improper care at the accident scene, assumptions should be checked. It could be that the Good Samaritan who first arrived is responsible. In such an instance, Georgia’s law more than likely protects him or her.
But if a paid medical professional rendered care at the scene and caused further injuries, they might not be protected by Good Samaritan law. Additional injuries caused by improper handling at an accident are very serious and could last you the rest of your life.
For example, in cases of severe neck injuries, proper stabilization of the neck is imperative before moving a patient into an ambulance for transportation to a hospital. Failure to do so can result in more damage to the cervical spine and even paralysis.
Remember, any paid medical professional in the scope of employment that responds to an accident with injuries who provides substandard care resulting in further injuries is not protected by Georgia’s Good Samaritan law.
If you have questions about Good Samaritan law in Georgia or wonder if you can sue someone who rendered aid at the accident scene that resulted in further injury, we invite you to contact the Atlanta injury attorneys at Scholle Law. We specialize in the most complex cases. Schedule your free consultation today.