Emergencies demand immediate action to save lives, and people present during an emergency should be able to render aid without fear of unintended repercussions.
Recognizing this, California's Health and Safety Code 1799.102, known as the "Good Samaritan Law," was enacted to encourage prompt responses in emergencies by mitigating fears of legal backlash for unintentional harm.
In other words, the Good Samaritan Law provides legal protection for individuals acting in good faith and providing medical or non-medical aid during emergencies.
This law applies to those who step forward to help others without ulterior motives or intention of causing harm. It alleviates concerns regarding civil liability for unintentional injuries or complications that may arise from their well-intentioned actions.
HSC 1799.102 says, “(a) No person who, in good faith, and not for compensation, renders emergency medical or nonmedical care at the scene of an emergency shall be liable for any civil damages resulting from any act or omission. The scene of an emergency shall not include emergency departments and other places where medical care is usually offered. This subdivision applies only to the medical, law enforcement, and emergency personnel specified in this chapter.”
The California Good Samaritan law protects you from civil liability when you act in good faith, not seeking compensation, to render emergency medical or non-medical care at the scene of an emergency.
Immunity from criminal charges for drug possession or use could be extended if you seek medical help for someone experiencing a drug-related overdose, as defined under California Health and Safety Code 11376.5 HSC.
The protections against civil liability under this law do not include acts of gross negligence and willful or wanton misconduct. Civil damages under this law include compensatory damages and punitive damages.
What Are the Principal Elements of the Law?
This law is designed to protect good samaritans who help at an accident or emergency scene but are not trained medical personnel. The law further encourages bystanders to volunteer in emergency situations. HSC 1799.102 makes the following critical provisions for good Samaritans acting in emergencies.
Immunity from Liability
The Good Samaritan Law grants immunity from civil liability for any "act or omission" for any person who:
- Renders medical or non-medical assistance at the "scene of an emergency;” and
- Does so while acting in good faith and not for compensation.
This protection encompasses regular citizens and healthcare professionals acting outside a standard medical context.
The shield of protection offered by HSC 1799.102 is subject to the following limits:
- The law does not protect against liability for an "act or omission constituting gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct."
- The law will not necessarily protect against criminal prosecution if a crime is committed during the emergency.
- For purposes of this law, a "scene of an emergency" does not include places where medical care is typically offered (e.g., emergency rooms or an EMT vehicle). Medical professionals acting in their normal environments are subject to other laws and regulations.
“Gross negligence” is the duty of care owed in some personal injury cases. It's greater than ordinary negligence in California but not as serious as recklessness.
California courts typically define “gross negligence” as a lack of care or an extreme departure from what a reasonably careful person would do in the same situation to prevent harm.
Willful or wanton misconduct is essentially aggravated negligence. It refers to conduct committed with intentional or reckless disregard for the safety of others or a disregard of duty necessary to the safety of someone's property.
Healthcare Professionals and Good Samaritan Safeguards
While healthcare professionals are protected under this law when offering emergency aid outside their regular professional context, they are judged by a marginally different standard. Their actions are evaluated against what another professional with comparable training would have reasonably done under identical circumstances.
The Scope of Protection: Medical and Non-Medical Care
The Good Samaritan Law originally applied only to rendering emergency medical care. However, in 2009, the California legislature passed Assembly Bill 83, an amendment extending legal protection to emergency non-medical care.
Examples of emergency medical care include:
- Performing CPR on a heart attack victim in a restaurant;
- Applying direct pressure to a bleeding limb;
- Performing the "Heimlich Maneuver" on a choking victim.
Examples of emergency non-medical care include:
- Pulling an injured driver out of a burning car;
- Dragging a drowning victim out of the water;
- Offering water to an injured party while awaiting emergency medical help
When Does the Good Samaritan Law Not Apply?
As noted, the protections offered by the Good Samaritan Law are not absolute: there are circumstances under which a rescuer could still face legal liability. These include:
- Acts of gross negligence refer to acting without reasonable care, acting with extreme irresponsibility, or doing something considered a vast departure from something a reasonable person would do under emergency circumstances.
- Willful or wanton misconduct: This is defined as behavior so reckless it shows a conscious disregard for the safety of others.
Furthermore, while the Good Samaritan Law primarily addresses civil liability, it does not provide blanket protection against criminal charges.
If rescuers commit a crime while providing aid, they may still face criminal prosecution. This highlights the importance of acting within the confines of the law, even when offering help in an emergency.
What are the Practical Effects of the Good Samaritan Law?
Being shielded by the Good Samaritan Law doesn't guarantee immunity from all legal proceedings; it merely provides a solid legal defense against them.
If a person you assisted in an emergency believes you inflicted harm through gross negligence or wanton misconduct, they retain the right to file a civil suit.
However, the onus is on the plaintiff to prove that you acted inappropriately. By default, if you can demonstrate that you acted in good faith, the law says you cannot be held legally liable, regardless of what lawsuits may be filed.
Contact our law firm for a case review and to discuss legal options. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, CA.