You’re driving along the road when you come across a car accident that’s clearly only just happened. There’s crumpled wreckage, radiators leaking steam, broken glass and a number of injured people either in the cars or on the ground nearby.
In this situation, the instinct of most people is to stop their car, get out and render whatever assistance they can to the injured before an ambulance arrives. Doctors and other health professionals are usually the first to do this, if they happen to be close by. From the well-known Bible story, we term the person who comes to the assistance of another, a ‘Good Samaritan’.
But what is the legal position of a Good Samaritan? What if the assistance you provide makes someone’s injury worse, or increases their risk of injury? Are you liable for being negligent in the help you provided? This article provides some guidance on this question but if you’re unsure and this situation applies to you or a friend or family member, seek legal advice from expert negligence lawyers as soon as possible.
What the law says
These days, states and territories around Australia have ‘Good Samaritan’ provisions in their various laws covering civil liability. In NSW, the law regarding people who come to the assistance of people who are injured or at risk of being injured is found in Part 8 of the Civil Liability Act 2002 (‘the Act’).
This section provides statutory protection to anyone who comes to the aid of another in emergency situations such as car accidents… but there are some exceptions.
The NSW law defines a Good Samaritan as a person who “in good faith and without expectation of payment or reward”, comes to the assistance of a person injured or at risk of injury. Section 57 of the Act says that in this situation, a Good Samaritan does not incur personal liability for anything they do, or do not do, when providing assistance. In essence, you can’t be sued for negligence in helping an injured person in an emergency.
When can you be held liable?
There are a couple of situations where the Act does not offer Good Samaritan protection from liability.
The first is where it was the Good Samaritan’s intentional or negligent act (or failure to act) that actually caused the injury or risk of injury to the person they later assist.
The second is where the Good Samaritan is ‘significantly impaired’ by voluntary consumption of alcohol or drugs (whether or not consumed for medication) so as to prevent them from exercising reasonable care and skill when providing assistance to the injured person. Determining whether someone was significantly impaired by alcohol or drugs will likely be discovered by expert evidence in any court proceeding.
A general failure to exercise reasonable care and skill when assisting, or not assisting, the injured person, can also mean the Samaritan is not protected by the law.
Finally, where a Good Samaritan impersonates a health care or emergency services worker, or a police officer, or pretends they have skills or expertise in providing emergency assistance, they will also not be protected by the Act.
The laws relating to Good Samaritans are designed to allow bystanders to come to the aid of an injured person, or person likely to be injured, without the worry of what happens if they do the wrong thing in providing assistance.
But as anyone knows, emergency situations are often chaotic and intense. People make mistakes, including those which mean that the law may not protect you against a negligence claim.
If this article raises any issues for you, contact award-winning personal injury firm BPC Lawyers today on (02) 8280 6900. We’ll promptly and clearly advise you of your rights in a free case evaluation.