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Can A “Good Samaritan” Be Held Liable For Negligence?

WHEN “GOOD SAMARITANS” ACT NEGLIGENTLY, LEGAL LIABILITY MAY OCCUR

The Biblical story of the “Good Samaritan” describes a person (a Samaritan) who voluntarily helps an injured man he discovers lying by the side of the road. In the Bible, the Samaritan is praised for his actions – as, indeed, society does (and should) consider the choice to help those in need a decision worthy of praise.

However, like the Biblical Samaritan, a modern person who chooses to help an injured person must do so in a way that does not unreasonably increase the risk of further harm. California law recognizes this through the so-called “Good Samaritan Rule,” which says that a person who voluntarily decides to help another person, but does so negligently, may be held liable for his actions.

WHEN DO VOLUNTARY ACTORS (OR “GOOD SAMARITANS”) FACE LIABILITY?

The test for liability under the Good Samaritan rule applies:

1. When a person with no duty to act on behalf of another,

2. Chooses to act on behalf of someone else,

3. Acts in a negligent manner (i.e., without using due care to prevent additional harm),

4. The good samaritan’s actions actually increase the risk of physical harm to the injured party; and

5. Harm or damage results from the good samaritan’s actions (or from others’ reliance on those actions).

In simpler terms:

Where a person who has no duty to act nonetheless decides to ask on behalf of another, performs the action negligently, and his or her actions causes harm or injury to another, liability may result. 

While the existence of this law should not dissuade people from helping or protecting others, it does provide an important warning: when deciding to help someone else, be aware that the decision carries with it a responsibility (and a duty) to act with due care and in a reasonably responsible manner. Instead of rushing carelessly and dangerously into the breach, make sure that you act as a reasonable person and take responsible actions–in other words, help when you possess the capacity to help properly, and do not get in the way if doing so would unreasonably increase the risk of further harm.

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Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR OR ROSS LAW AND ANY PERSON. Your rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal claims. Speak with an experienced lawyer promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, possible damages, and options. You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Most legal claims (and defenses) are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against someone who injured you, a lawyer who represented you in a previous lawsuit, or any other type of legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your personal rights and claims.

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