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What Are Good Samaritan Laws?

Posted in Safety Tips on December 10, 2018

Being a good Samaritan is no longer just an ethical matter, but a legal one due to West Virginia’s Good Samaritan Law. Good Samaritan laws serve to protect bystanders who assist during emergency situations from liability.

The goal of these laws is to encourage people to step in and help during emergencies, without fear of facing liability for accidentally making things worse. Good Samaritan laws may even require certain witnesses to intervene after an accident. To learn more about liability or if you have a personal injury claim, speak with a West Virginia personal injury attorney.

What Is a Good Samaritan?

A good Samaritan is someone who voluntarily (without pay) renders aid to victims in emergency situations. Good Samaritans do not bear a legal responsibility to assist victims, but they do so anyway. Most good Samaritans are bystanders who happen to be in the right place at the right time. Often, good Samaritans are not medical professionals sent to the scene of the accident. Good Samaritans do not generally owe duties of care to victims, but they render aid and call the authorities anyway, because they think it is the right thing to do.

Liability for Good Samaritans

Good Samaritan laws came about because many bystanders found themselves facing lawsuits after rendering aid to a victim in good faith. For example, say an innocent bystander witnessed a car accident. Subsequently, the bystander moved the victim out of the roadway with the good-faith belief that he or she was helping the victim by taking him/her out of harm’s way. Unbeknownst to the good Samaritan, the victim had suffered a spinal cord injury. Moving the victim out of the car made the injury worse – leaving the victim paralyzed.

In this situation, prior to the passing of Good Samaritan laws, the victim could potentially hold the bystander liable for worsening his/her spinal cord injury. This would mean the bystander would have to pay the victim’s medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages simply for trying to help. Situations like this gained notoriety, and soon would-be good Samaritans withheld their assistance in emergencies for fear of facing civil liability. In response, Good Samaritan laws came about.

West Virginia Code Section 55-7-15

Not all states have Good Samaritan laws. West Virginia lawmakers, however, passed one that gives immunity from civil liability to good Samaritans. West Virginia Code Section 55-7-15 states that no person who renders emergency care at the scene of an accident or crime in good faith shall be liable for any civil damages that result from the act of rendering such care. In other words, someone who intervenes with the intention of helping will not have to pay damages to a victim if that care does more harm than good.

The state’s Good Samaritan Law protects both civilians and people licensed to practice medicine or dentistry. Anyone who steps in to offer aid in an accident, emergency, or after a crime receives this protection from civil liability. Bystanders do not have to fear a lawsuit after rendering aid to an accident victim, even if their good-faith attempts to help make matters worse.

Tips for Good Samaritans

If you find yourself in a position to render aid to someone in an emergency, do so as much as reasonably possible. Call 911 to report the accident. Then, provide medical assistance such as CPR if you know how to and it is appropriate under the circumstances. If you believe it is better to leave the victim as-is until emergency help arrives, stay with the victim and keep him or her calm while you wait. You could also render aid in other ways, such as directing traffic after a car accident. Offer good-faith help as much as you can, knowing West Virginia’s Good Samaritan Law protects you from future liability.