We all hope that someone will willingly step forward and come to our aid in an emergency when we aren’t able to help ourselves. Most people have a natural instinct to want to help someone facing a medical crisis, but for some, the fear of liability if they get involved and then make a mistake that could escalate the situation keeps them from stepping forward. If that’s the case, it helps to understand the protections Washington residents enjoy through the state’s Good Samaritan law.
Washington State Legislature’s code RCW 4.24.300 defines a “Good Samaritan” as an individual who isn’t a medical professional who aids or assists another person in an emergency without expecting compensation for their actions. Suppose you step forward to help someone who’s had an accident or medical emergency out of your desire to provide aid and you’re not a healthcare professional paid to help that person, in that case, you’re acting as a Good Samaritan under the law.
Good Samaritan Laws came into place to protect people who try to help others during an emergency and might accidentally cause further injury or fail to prevent death. It addresses the unfairness of punitive lawsuit proceedings against an ordinary person whose only motive was to help and who didn’t have a professional duty of care toward the emergency victim and who may not have had any formal medical training. For example, if a person witnesses someone choking in a restaurant and performs the Heimlich maneuver and in the process accidentally breaks the victim’s rib, the survivor or a family member can’t sue the rescuer for personal injury or wrongful death.
The law also puts protection into place for any untrained individual who transports an emergency victim to a hospital, causes further injury, or experiences a car accident while attempting the rescue. Those who might damage property during the course of rescue, such as an untrained individual breaking a window to rescue someone from a fire, also have immunity from property damage liability under the law.
Washington’s Good Samaritan Law protects helpful citizens who might accidentally cause further injury while attempting to render aid, but it specifies that a rescuer must act as any reasonable person would and without willful negligence or gross misconduct.
These laws don’t apply to any medical professional who has a paid, professional relationship with an individual who then expects a skilled, professional level of care, such as a doctor/patient relationship, or an emergency responder who acts in the course of their paid duty toward an emergency victim and causes harm.
If an off-duty doctor or other medical professional steps in to give aid to a person who is not their patient, they also enjoy protection from liability under Washington’s Good Samaritan law. The only exception is if the professional later accepts payment for their action, in which case it establishes a professional relationship and protections no longer apply.
Paid school teachers also have immunity from liability in emergency aid circumstances because their professional relationship with students does not include medical training or a duty of care toward the students that includes providing medical treatment.
Washington’s drug-related overdose expansion to the Good Samaritan law provides protection against drug possession charges for those giving medical assistance to an overdose victim by transporting them to a hospital, injecting Naloxone, or providing medical aid.
Thanks to Good Samaritan laws, bystanders no longer have to question their own roles in stepping in to help a victim during an emergency out of fear of liability, potentially saving untold numbers of lives.
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