The other day, a client was telling me a story. While trying to describe somebody’s personality, he said this:
“She’s the type of person that will find fault in everything you do. If you push her off the tracks just seconds before she is about to be struck by a speeding locomotive, she’ll sue you for bruising her leg and soiling her clothes.”
And that reminded me of New York’s Good Samaritan law, today’s topic.
Common Law: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
Generally speaking, there is no duty to come to the aid of somebody that has been in an accident and in need of emergency medical assistance. However, not long ago, if you attempted to render medical assistance to somebody and botched the rescue, chances were you would be sued. Therefore, educated bystanders wouldn’t dare attempt a rescue.
Since the common law discouraged bystanders from attempting to render medical assistance to those in need, the legislature, recognizing this result was both unacceptable and undesirable, enacted in 2000 what is generally referred to as the Good Samaritan law.
Effect of the Law
New York’s Good Samaritan law carves out specific circumstances when an individual shall not be held liable for ordinary negligence in attempting to render medical assistance. Instead, they will only be held liable in cases of gross negligence.
Simply put, negligence is a failure to exercise ordinary care. Gross negligence means a failure to use even slight care, or is conduct that is so careless as to show complete disregard for the rights and safety of others.
When it Applies
The law isn’t found in one centralized part, but rather integrated into various provisions of the NY Public Health Law and the NY Education Law.
Importantly, New York’s Good Samaritan law is limited to medical treatment or assistance. The heart of the law is found in Pub. Health Law §3000-a, which provides in part:
Any person who voluntarily and without expectation of monetary compensation renders first aid or emergency treatment at the scene of an accident or other emergency outside a hospital, doctor’s office or any other place having proper and necessary medical equipment, to a person who is unconscious, ill, or injured, shall not be liable for damages for injuries alleged to have been sustained by such person or for damages for the death of such person alleged to have occurred by reason of an act or omission in the rendering of such emergency treatment unless it is established that such injuries were or such death was caused by gross negligence on the part of such person.
Voluntary Act; No Expectation of Monetary Compensation
An important theme here is that the person act both voluntarily, and without the expectation of monetary compensation. This is significant because the protection extends to dentists (Educ. on Law §661), physicians (Educ. Law §6527), nurses (Educ. Law §6909), physicians assistants (Educ. Law §6547) and physical therapists (Educ. Law §6737), provided they are not in a place having proper and necessary medical equipment, and are not rendering their professional or licensed services in the ordinary course of their practices.
Automated External Defibrillator (AED) and Epinephrine Auto-Injector (Epi-pen) Devices
The law is somewhat different, however, for emergency health care providers, or those persons or entities that purchase or make available Automated External Defibrillator (AED) devices, or Epinephrine Auto-Injector devices. In those cases, the emergency health care provider, person or entity, shall not be held liable for the use of that equipment if a person voluntarily and without expectation of monetary compensation renders first aid or emergency medical treatment, and shall also not be held liable for the use of defectively manufactured equipment.
However, the law expressly states it shall not limit claims against the emergency health care provider, person or entity that purchased or made available that equipment from its own negligence, gross negligence or intentional misconduct. Pub. Health Law §3000-a(2). See, also, Pub. Health Law §3000-b (Automated External Defibrillators) and Pub. Health Law §3000-c (Epinephrine Auto-Injector).
Go Ahead, Be a Hero
Once again, it is safe to play superhero, but remember to use at least ordinary care.
(NOTE: Emergency medical technicians and volunteer ambulance services are subject to more technical provisions under Pub. Health Law §3013.)