Good Samaritans may face legal consequences - WDAM.COM - TV 7 - News, Weather and Sports

Safety

Good Samaritans may face legal consequences

In any neighborhood across America, you'll likely find a 'good Samaritan' helping someone in need.

The term derives from the biblical story of two people who refused to help a man who was beaten and robbed. The third person, a man from Samaria, stopped and rendered aid to the victim.

All 50 states have Good Samaritan laws, but it may surprise you to know that in some states, you could be fined for not helping someone in need.

In Savannah, Georgia, a good Samaritan saw someone breaking into his neighbor's house. He held a gun on the would-be burglar until police arrived.

Sometimes, good Samaritans put their own lives in jeopardy.

An Ohio man, who wanted to remain anonymous, rescued a father and three children from their burning home in Cleveland.

"I've got to do what I've got do. I didn't care about my life--I cared about those kids in there," he said.

What these good Samaritans did were selfless acts, but were they wise to help? What if they decided not to help? 

Dr. Sandra Jordan is a law professor at The Charlotte School of Law in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Jordan says Good Samaritan laws are extremely difficult to understand because they vary from state to state.

"Quite frankly, there are a hodge-podge of laws," she said. "It's all over the place."

In the United States, there is no 'general duty to render aid,' which in legalese means no one is compelled to help and a victim cannot file a civil suit if someone doesn't stop to help. 

There are exceptions, however, in Hawaii, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Vermont and Rhode Island.

In those states, if you are able to help a victim without injuring yourself but you fail to offer aid, you could face criminal liability and be charged with a minor penalty like a petty misdemeanor or a $100 fine.

In some states, if you stop to check on an injured person but you don't follow through by making sure they get the medical help they need, you could be sued.

"They now have assumed the duty and the law says they must continue to help if reasonable to do so, and if they can do so without reasonable harm to themselves," Jordan explained.

To add to the confusion about these laws, in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Oregon, civilians who stop to help others don't have the same protection as people who have some type of medical training.

"They do act at their peril in coming to the aid," said Jordan. "They do not have the protection you would have if you were a professional physician or emergency responder."

Even though you may be trying to help someone, if you cause them serious or permanent injury, you could be sued.

So the dilemma is this: With the example of the good Samaritan, should you try to help someone and risk facing criminal or civil liability, or not?

According to Dr. Jordan, there are some things you can do without subjecting yourself to exposure, regardless of the law where you live.

The first thing you should always do is call 911 and don't assume others have already called for help.

Stay with the victim and comfort them until firefighters or paramedics arrive.

If you are unsure of the victim's injuries, think twice before pulling them from a wrecked vehicle, because you could make their injuries worse.

Instead, look around for dangerous things you can move away from the victim or move the victim away from the dangerous situation.

Ultimately, be careful about putting yourself at risk.

"The law doesn't require the good Samaritan to put themselves in a position of danger or risk," Jordan added.

Additional Information: 

Copyright 2012 America Now. All rights reserved.