If a person needs help in an emergency situation, they would likely want a Good Samaritan to help get them out of harm’s way as soon as possible. For example, you would want someone to come to your aid following a serious car collision, biking accident, pedestrian hazard, assault, avalanche, or any other disaster. In a dire situation, such as in the moments following a car crash, it often takes too long for emergency responders to arrive on the scene. Quick action may save a life.
Now let’s put the shoe on the other foot. Are you a Good Samaritan that would help someone in need in an emergency situation? Of course you are. Notwithstanding what we’ve learned from the Kitty Genovese murder in New York City and research into the “bystander effect,” most of us like to think of ourselves as Good Samaritans.
In California, a bystander does not have a duty to rescue a person in peril. Interestingly, there is no general duty to render assistance to someone in peril. Under prior California law, if a person decides to attempt a rescue, the rescuer must act with due care and cannot execute the rescue in a way which is unacceptably careless. In other words, while there is no duty to act to come to the aid of another, once a person begins to act, a duty to act with care is triggered. If a person decides to act but then executes a rescue in a careless manner which causes further injury, under prior California law the rescuer could be held liable for the injuries of the person they attempted to rescue.
The obvious problem with earlier California law is that it dissuaded bystanders from acting to help those in need.
That is where state and federal Good Samaritan laws come into play to provide limited protection to citizens who render aid in an emergency. In California, the general Good Samaritan statute is found at Health and Safety Code 1799.102, and reads in relevant part:
(b) (1) It is the intent of the Legislature to encourage other individuals to volunteer, without compensation, to assist others in need during an emergency, while ensuring that those volunteers who provide care or assistance act responsibly.
(2) … no person who in good faith, and not for compensation, renders emergency medical or nonmedical care or assistance at the scene of an emergency shall be liable for civil damages resulting from any act or omission other than an act or omission constituting gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct…
Thus, under the current Good Samaritan statute, California law affords some legal protection as long as you are not grossly negligent – a high standard designed to protect rescuers and encourage rescues. Although state law protections from liability may play a role, deciding to act to rescue a person in need ultimately comes down to each individual’s conscience and ability to act decisively.
Act as your conscious directs and skills allow – knowing that California law makes it difficult for the person receiving aid to sue you for administering assistance. Regardless of whether you decide to come to the aid of another in peril, the best first step is to immediately call 911 and provide the location of the emergency and other pertinent details.
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The content contained and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author. This blog contains content and opinions concerning the law generally, and is not intended to constitute legal advice or to create any attorney‑client relationship with the reader. The reader should consult with an attorney about any specific legal issues prior to embarking on any course of action or inaction involving legal matters. The author makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the contents of this blog and expressly disclaims liability for any errors and omissions.