Rules for the Good Samaritan Helping an Injured Victim in an Accident

In our previous blog post, If a Child is Injured and in Need of Help, Do You Have to Help?, we discovered that there is no affirmative duty to render assistance to an injured person in need of help following a car accident, motorcycle accident, big-rig (i.e., trucking accident, semi accident, etc.) accident, or other personal injury matter unless there is some sort of pre-existing relationship between the parties requiring the individual to help. However, what if the would-be rescuer undertakes the responsibility of assisting someone in need? Are there rules he/she must follow during the course of the rescue? Absolutely, and this blog post will identify the rules governing a Good Samaritan who decides to assist a personal injury victim. Believe it or not, this Good Samaritan might actually be liable for injuries sustained by the victim if he/she does not act in a way the law requires of him/her to do so. Let us assume you are walking down the street and witness a horrific truck accident where an 18-wheeler commercial semi-truck runs a red light and crashes into an individual riding a motorcycle. The individual is conscious but very badly injured. How do you respond? Do you call 911? Do you try to stop the bleeding by holding you hand over his wound? Do you attempt to re-set the broken bone in his leg? Do you attempt to lift him and carry him to a nearby hospital? Without more information and actually being in this situation, it is hard to say with specificity what the proper actions would be. Analyzing the case law on this subject does shed some light on how a Good Samaritan must act, generally speaking, in an emergency situation. First, in order to be classified as a “Good Samaritan” the following traits must be true: The rescuer was 1) rendering assistance at the scene of an emergency, 2) the rescuer was acting in good faith, and 3) the rescuer was not acting for compensation (see California Civil Jury Instructions 450B). Should these three criteria be met, the rescuer would be allowed to assert the “Good Samaritan” defense to any claim by the injured victim that the negligent actions of the Good Samaritan increased the victims personal injuries. Understand, this defense, if properly asserted, is a bar against recovery by the personal injury victim for negligent acts on the part of the rescuer that caused injury or further injury to the victim; it is not a bar to recovery against claims of gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct (see Injury Accident Cause of Action? Negligence). The jury instruction defines gross negligence as “the lack of any care or an extreme departure from what a reasonably careful person would do in the same situation” and defines willful or wanton misconduct as “conduct by a person who may have no intent to cause harm, but who intentionally performs an act so unreasonable and dangerous that he or she knows or should know it is highly probable that harm will result.” If, for example, gross negligence is proved, the trier of fact (i.e., the jury or judge) must answer the following inquiry, as provided in the jury instruction: ” If you find that [name of defendant] was grossly negligent or acted willfully or wantonly, [name of plaintiff] must then also prove: 1. [(a) That [name of defendant]’s conduct added to the risk of harm; [or] (b) That [name of defendant]’s conduct caused [name of plaintiff] to reasonably rely on [his/her] protection;] and 2. That the [additional risk/ [or] reliance] was a substantial factor in causing harm to [name of plaintiff]. Thus, if an individual attempts to render aid to an injured party following some sort of accident and in so doing injures the victim further, he can escape liability for those additional injuries if he proves he was acting as a Good Samaritan and his actions that caused the injuries were not the result of gross negligence or wanton and willful misconduct. Contact our Good Samaritan lawyer today for a free consultation if you have been injured in an accident and need assistance.