July 28th, 2011
As a traveling nurse, I drove thousands of miles across the U.S. All those miles, all those hours in cars and I have never witnessed an auto accident without rescue personnel already on the scene. Lucky I guess, but I have wondered many times, what would I do, if I did?
I like to think I would stop and try to help. As a nurse I am certified in CPR, I have been trained in basic life support and I have a good dose of common sense. I could be a Good Samaritan as defined by law.
But, whenever this topic comes up in conversation there is a lot of fear and misinformation. And sadly, many people, in health care and not, say don't stop. I've heard I could lose my nursing license; I could be sued or even charged with a crime just for trying to do the right thing.
Good Samaritan laws
Good Samaritan acts are laws designed to protect people who provide assistance at the site of an emergency. They keep citizens who stop to render aid from being charged or sued for any legal liability for injuries caused under such circumstances. These laws apply to everyone, whether you are a truck driver, factory worker, stock broker, doctor, or nurse.
The laws are different in every state. Most state statutes do not require passersby to stop and provide aid. Deciding to do so is considered more of an ethical than a legal duty. However, in a few states, legislation — referred to as "duty to rescue laws –" has been enacted which requires people in health care to stop and help the injured.
Good Samaritan laws protect health care providers like nurses who give aid at an accident from claims of malpractice unless it can be proven that there was a gross departure from the normal standard of care or willful wrongdoing on the provider's part. Gross negligence usually means that further injury or harm came to victim. For example, an injured person is left on the side of the road and is struck by another car when the nurse leaves to get help without first getting them out of further harm's way or setting up some kind of warning that there is trouble ahead.
The care provided must be rendered free of charge. And finally, once emergency aid is offered, there is a legal duty to remain with the victim until he or she is stable or another provider with equivalent or higher training provides relief. Otherwise, there could be a charge of abandonment.
Hospital personnel responding to a call for help within their workplace are not covered under Good Samaritan laws. The laws apply only to situations outside the workplace: at a disaster, the scene of an accident or other emergency setting.
What Should You Do?
What if you've stopped to help someone in distress and while you are a nurse, you work in a pediatric operating room, and this is a multi-vehicle accident site. Even though the situation is an emergent one, health care personnel are obligated to function within their respective skill sets, ability, education and expertise. Any care rendered for which the person has not been trained is viewed as grossly negligent and thus subject to liability.
Here are a few tips for providing emergency care and protecting yourself at the same time.
Good Samaritan laws aren't just about traffic accidents, but any kind of emergency. In 2011 a number of states enacted these laws to encourage people to call 911 about drug and alcohol overdoses. There has been an increase in the numbers of deaths from these incidents, yet surveys show there are almost always other people around when overdoses happen. The problem lies with witnesses who fear prosecution for possession of illegal substances. The new Good Samaritan laws would protect them too.
It is important to know the laws of your particular state, the one in which you practice. Don't try to do more than you are trained to do, know your limitations and provide the best nursing care you can under the circumstances.