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The Good Samaritan Law - how does that work, exactly?

One of the topics that usually draws questions in many of our CPR and CPR/First Aid classes is rescuer liability.

Oftentimes, bystanders may be reluctant to offer aid, especially CPR, for fear that if they do something "wrong", they will then be prosecuted or sued for injury (although unintentional) or wrongful death. The resulting delay in emergency care may be the deciding factor in the survival of a victim, and in most states, this delay is completely unwarranted.

 The definition of a "good samaritan" would apply to someone who gives aid (such as first aid, CPR, or AED use) in an emergency to an injured person in a voluntary capacity, without expectation of monetary compensation, and who is not considered to be a medical professional or professional rescuer. Most states have a version of the laws in place, with some variation in the details (Seattle/Washington state residents are directed to http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=4.24.300 and http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=70.54.310 for the full text). Some require bystanders to offer "reasonable assistance" (such as calling 911) to those in need, but all protect those who do offer aid subsequent protection against legal action. As long as the rescuer is not willfully negligent or reckless in giving aid, and gives aid in a reasonable manner, then the rescuer will not be held legally liable for the outcome. Note that if a victim refuses assistance, forcing help on them against their wishes does not offer the rescuer shelter from legal liability. In this case, the rescuer should phone 911 immediately and let police and/or medical personnel handle the situation.

During the CPR and first aid classes at CPR Seattle, we make a point of instructing potential rescuers to ask the victim if they require assistance, keeping in mind that a non-responsive (unconscious) victim, by definition, consents to help from a rescuer.

This applies to first aid, CPR, and especially, use of an AED. The operation of an AED may be a frightening thing for a rescuer, but just like CPR, for victims of sudden cardiac arrest it can only help, and can't be more life-threatening to the victim than the cardiac arrest itself.

We try to emphasize to our CPR and first aid students that it's much more important that they follow their training and offer aid quickly than to worry about "messing up". Victims of sudden cardiac arrest have only one hope - rapid CPR, ideally in conjunction with an AED. CPR given poorly is better than no CPR at all, but CPR given by a trained, confident, and quick-responding rescuer, along with an AED, is often the only way to save someone's life.

Published on August 3, 2012