California Good Samaritan Law
April 29, 2019 | liability | Rosenthal & Kreeger
In 2013, California became the tenth U.S. state to implement a Good Samaritan Law, which provides limited prosecutorial immunity to people who seek emergency medical services on behalf of a person suffering a drug overdose. California Health and Safety Code 1799.102 outlines this law and all California residents should be familiar with how it works and when it applies.
Defining a Good Samaritan
California law defines a Good Samaritan as an individual who comes to the assistance of another person in danger out of sheer concern, with no intention of seeking a reward or compensation for acting in this manner. This law exists both to encourage average citizens to take appropriate action when they see other citizens in distress and to prevent individuals who seek emergency services on behalf of others in danger from facing prosecution.
Before the enactment of Good Samaritan laws, some people who desired only to help others in need faced criminal prosecution for their actions and even civil claims from the people they attempted to help. For example, if a man has a heart attack on the street and a passerby administered CPR, the victim could suffer a cracked or broken rib. This is a common side effect of CPR, but in this situation the victim could respond to the passerby’s help with legal action for the broken rib.
Good Samaritan laws prevent willing helpers in extreme circumstances from facing legal action for their good intentions, but these laws do not immunize a would-be helper from negligence charges if he or she acts beyond the scope of what a reasonable person would do in the same situation. The law wants to encourage people to help while simultaneously ensuring they help responsibly and to the best of their abilities.
Good Samaritan Laws and Preventing Overdose Deaths
Another major reason behind the enactment of California’s Good Samaritan law is the explosive increase of opioid overdoses and overdose deaths in recent years. All communities across the U.S have experienced this epidemic on some level, and many overdose deaths occur due to bystanders being too afraid of facing drug charges to call an ambulance for someone else suffering an overdose. For example, a group of friends decide to take heroin together, and one of them has an overdose. Prior to the enactment of the Good Samaritan law, the others may hesitate to call 911, potentially jeopardizing the overdose victim’s life.
Good Samaritan laws now ensure these individuals would not face drug charges after calling for help for their friend. California is one of the states most deeply affected by opioid addiction, and the Good Samaritan law aims to reduce the number of opioid overdose deaths in the state.
Potential Conflicts From Good Samaritan Laws
One of the major criticisms of Good Samaritan laws is they do little to protect injured victims who receive aid from strangers and passersby, even when those “helpers” cause more harm than good. The California Good Samaritan law only applies to the scene at which an incident occurs, and immediate aid becomes necessary. Additionally, it does not protect a helper if he or she negligently injures the victim he or she attempts to help. It may prove difficult to determine in some cases whether helpers’ actions were appropriate and reasonable given the circumstances.
If you recently rendered medical or nonmedical aid to an individual in distress and later learn he or she has filed civil charges against you, speak with a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. It is possible you have protection under California’s Good Samaritan law, and an experienced attorney can help you determine your protection under California law and other potential defenses.