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Samaritan Law: Can You be Sued for CPR?

Fiol Law Group|Posted in Uncategorized on May 28, 2019

It might seem like common sense to help others in need. For some individuals it sounds irresponsible to succumb to bystander effect, or to leave another person who is in need to respect their privacy. However, not all individuals think this way – including those that need saving. In some cases, being a good Samaritan could lead to legal action, initiated by the individual that was saved.

The American Heart Association (AHA) encourages individuals who are not medical professionals to learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Their intent is to prevent unnecessary deaths caused by cardiac arrest that take place outside of the medical setting. Brain death begins to take effect between and four and six minutes after a heart attack – this makes reaction time crucial in administering CPR. Pushing through bystander effect, the AHA hopes to save lives by equipping civilians with tools and knowledge.

Good Samaritan Law

Under typical conditions, Good Samaritan law prevents an involved party from suing the individual who administered CPR. Good Samaritan law varies between states. No matter what state you find yourself in, these laws are meant to provide protection to bystanders who step in to help. Some states require individuals with knowledge of CPR to step in or otherwise be fined, while others simply protect those that tried to help. On a federal level, the Federal Cardiac Survival Act legally provides immunity from civil charged for those who conduct CPR or use an AED – if they were not negligent. Instances of negligence occur when bystanders attempt to do more than they truly can. For example, attempting to use AED equipment to shock a person’s heart back into working is reckless if you don’t know how to properly use the device.

Do Not Resuscitate (DNR)

DNR orders dictate that the specified individual is not to be saved in any health-related circumstance. Typically, no reply when an individual is having a heart attack implies consent, but this is not the case with DNR orders. Good Samaritan laws will not help you in this situation because the order itself represents a lack of consent. Despite this, details within the DNR order could provide stipulations. Some orders are only valid within a hospital setting while others are valid no matter the location. Moreover, an individual who does not know what DNR orders are or does not know that a suffering individual has one, may still be under protection. This is another positive aspect of Good Samaritan law because it provides additional protection to who are still being tried in court for administering CPR.

Wrongful Death Claims

The Federal Cardiac Survival Act only protects you when you are not reckless or negligent when providing CPR or AED services to another human. However, if the individual dies, any incorrect step taken in either of these processes could indicate your contribution to their death. Do not attempt to save another individual’s life unless you are sure about what you are doing. Deviating from what you know and attempting to perform additional care, like performing a tracheotomy with a pen to open the airway, can be used as evidence against you in court. This is especially true if you are in no way related to the medical field because it then becomes reckless endangerment – even if your intent was good. If a victim’s family is suing you for wrongful death, and you did not act with negligence, the Federal Cardiac Survival Act may still offer immunity. This would require proof that you are qualified to perform CPR and can execute it correctly.

Good Samaritan laws are in place for good reason. They provide protection to those few individuals who step outside of their comfort zone to help another person in need. Although it is always positive to exercise these philanthropic inclinations, remember to have your own back too. Check for DNR orders, apply your skill effectively, and continue with your day knowing that, at the very least, you tried to help.