Good Samaritan Laws Aim to Encourage Assistance
But in real-world situations, such as when a bystander administers naloxone, there are gray areas.
The term "Good Samaritan" is mentioned frequently in the context of health care, but what does it mean?
A Good Samaritan is defined as an individual who intervenes to assist someone else without being told to do so or without expectation of a reward. “Good Samaritan laws have their basis in the idea that consensus agreement favors good ‘public policy’ to limit liability for those who voluntarily perform care and rescue in emergency situations,” according to an article in StatPearls.1
The general idea behind such laws is that they provide protection against claims of negligence for those who come to the aid of others. Although these statutes can vary by state, there are also federal Good Samaritan laws.
The designation comes from the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan, which describes a traveler at the side of the road in dire straits.2 He had been beaten, stripped of clothing, and left for dead. A priest passed without rendering aid, as did someone else. Finally, a third individual came upon the scene, and he was from a different population group that typically despised those of the injured man’s background. Nonetheless, he assisted the injured traveler. The third individual was from Samaria, leading to his being referred to as the Good Samaritan.
“In legal terms, a Good Samaritan is anyone who renders aid in an emergency to an injured or ill person. Generally, if the victim is unconscious or unresponsive, a Good Samaritan can help on the grounds of implied consent. If the person is conscious and can reasonably respond, a would-be rescuer should ask permission first,” according to the StatPearls article.1
An example of application of this principle can be seen in the 2007 case Dunlap v Young in Texas.3 In this case, a woman was found during the early morning on a roadside in a rural area. She was in severe respiratory distress and ultimately died as a result. In a lawsuit against the emergency medical services crew that had found and treated her, the rescuers were not found liable, because they acted promptly and provided care.2 Another contemporary example that is prevalent these days is a bystander using naloxone for individuals who overdose on opioids.
Good Samaritan laws generally encourage those in health care to provide care during emergencies.4 There is wide-ranging immunity, even in the case of ordinary negligence, which in lay terms means careless mistakes. The laws do not, however, cover what is called gross negligence, which is a voluntary disregard of the need to provide care.
Good Samaritan laws mainly apply to emergencies that have been defined as causing death or serious injury. The laws have been proven to increase response and well-being of the individual who requires the help. Even if the person responding is a health care provider, it might be outside their field of study. These laws protect them and will, therefore, make them more likely to respond no matter the state of the emergency.
An example of such an event could be if an individual experiences syncope on an aircraft and a physician is present. He or she would be protected for providing care while the person is unconscious.
The most common pharmacy example, as mentioned previously, is giving naloxone to an individual who has overdosed, perhaps in a community pharmacy parking lot.
It is also important to note cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) when it comes to Good Samaritan laws. Individuals need the training before acting in such a case, but once they are qualified, then the response is encouraged. It has been shown that CPR use in Good Samaritan situations is positively associated with better health outcomes of the patients who are experiencing cardiac arrest.5 That may be the reason why so many colleges of pharmacy require that entering students be certified to provide CPR services.
The Good Samaritan law in Kentucky is stricter than those in many other states.
“Kentucky extends immunity only to physicians licensed by Kentucky. This statute does, however, extend immunity to any person certified by the American Heart Association or the American Red Cross to perform CPR,” according to an article in Chest.6
The state has since had to deal with naloxone in terms of Good Samaritan laws, but individuals need a good under- standing of what an overdose looks like and the actions needed for using the medication.
Good Samaritan laws are easy to understand in theory but fall into a gray area when applied to real-world situations. It is essential to be aware of the laws in place and how they can be applied. The laws are meant to encourage providing help when not directly called to do so, as well as going through the necessary steps when providing that care. Good Samaritan laws will always have a standard but will constantly evolve as new drugs and situations arise.
Elizabeth H. McEntire is a PharmD candidate at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy in Lexington.
Joseph L. Fink III, JD, BSPharm, DSc (Hon), FAPhA, is a professor of pharmacy law and policy and the Kentucky Pharmacists Association Endowed Professor of Leadership at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy.
- West B. Good Samaritan laws. StatPearls. Updated September 20, 2020. Accessed April 8, 2021. www.statpearls.com/ArticleLibrary/viewarticle/22370
- Luke 10:25-37 (NIV). Bible Gateway. Accessed April 8, 2021. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%2010%3A25-37&version=NIV
- Dunlap v Young, 187 S.W.3d 828 (Tex App 2006).
- Pozgar, GD. Defenses against plaintiff’s claims. In: Legal and Ethical Essentials of Health Care Administration. Jones & Bartlett Learning; 2021:102-105.
- Murphy TW, Windermere S, Morris T, Slish J, Holtzman L, Becker TK. Risk and ROSC - legal implications of bystander CPR. Resuscitation. 2020;151:99-102. doi:10.1016/j.resuscitation.2020.03.017
- Stewart PH, Agin WS, Douglas SP. What does the law say to Good Samaritans?: a review of Good Samaritan statutes in 50 states and on US airlines. Chest. 2013;143(6):1774-1783. doi:10.1378/chest.12-2161