Imagine you see someone who is hurt and desperate for medical help. There is no one around but you. It’s the type of situation where every minute counts. If you act immediately, the person may go on to live a healthy life. For strangers to provide such aid, they must never pause in fear of legal consequences.
It sounds dramatic, but every first responder knows taking immediate action makes a difference. After only three minutes without oxygen, brain damage can begin. If a first responder pauses to worry about financial or legal risks, the victim(s) are not getting the help they need.
For this reason, several states drafted legislation deemed necessary for protecting public health. These “Good Samaritan” laws were put into place across the United States. The aim was to encourage doctors and even everyday citizens to offer emergency aid.
What is a “Good Samaritan Law?”
The words Samaritan means a helpful or charitable person. In the context of the legal system, Good Samaritan Laws protect people attempting to help those in need.
A person having a health emergency is often incoherent or even unconscious. As a result, they often cannot explicitly give consent to receive assistance. Typical examples might include someone who is choking or having a heart attack.
Under the legislation, people giving emergency assistance to those they believe to be in danger, even if incapacitated, will not have civil penalties. This rule remains true even in the event they inadvertently contribute to the person’s injuries.
Can I be sued for helping an injured person?
Just because a person will not face criminal charges does not mean they are free to do as they please. Everyday citizens feel deterred to help others if it means risking financial losses. Having Good Samaritans protected from civil and criminal punishment makes sense.
Good Samaritan Laws are similar to other passed laws on the books. They can be open to interpretation. Thus, it is advisable when you decide to volunteer aid to an injured person that you continue to act reasonably.
Good Samaritans are excluded from damages as long as they did not behave in a grossly negligent or willfully reckless manner. Nebraska prescribes such protection by Neb. Rev. Stat. §25-21,186 (1961), “No person who renders emergency care at the scene of an accident or other emergency gratuitously, shall be held liable for any civil damages as a result of any act or omission by such person in rendering the emergency care or as a result of any act or failure to act to provide or arrange for medical treatment or care for the injured person.”
Volunteer emergency responders and fire department professionals are also covered. Nebraska law provides this protection with Neb. Rev.Stat. § 35-107 (Reissue 1998), “No member of a volunteer fire department or of a volunteer first-aid, rescue, or emergency squad which provides emergency public first-aid and rescue services shall be liable in any civil action to respond in damages as a result of his acts of commission or omission arising out of and in the course of his rendering in good faith any such services as such member but such immunity from liability shall not extend to the operation of any motor vehicle in connection with such services. Nothing in this section shall be deemed to grant any such immunity to any person causing damage by his willful or wanton act of commission or omission.”
An example of how the law works
You’re going down a road on a beautiful Sunday drive when suddenly a truck dangerously passes you. It’s speeding way too fast and ignores the upcoming red light. It smashes into another vehicle causing a huge truck accident. The driver of the truck flees the scene while you stop to see what help is needed.
You discover a person in the damaged car, pinned by the heavy truck. Smoke starts to come from under the hood of the vehicle. The obvious thing for you is to get the person safely away from their vehicle. You attempt to drive the truck in reverse to unpin the person.
The problem is the truck is a standard. You don’t know the right gear position for reverse. You end up first going forward, running over the victim, before moving in the correct direction.
When the victim gets to the hospital, doctors determine several severe bone fractures. While your actions seemed like the only thing to do at the time, the victim never asked for any help. Now they blame you for their injuries and seek compensation.
While you may have saved the person’s life, you are left wondering if you might face litigation. It’s the right time to have a professional team determine precisely how to apply Nebraska’s Good Samaritan Law.
Protecting underage drinkers
Underage drinking is a common juvenile crime. It is also a legitimate health issue for our state. In the past, teen fatalities due to alcohol were rising and legislators felt compelled to help. The result was Nebraska passing a particular Good Samaritan Law, LB439. It offered immunity to those facing underage drinking charges if they called 911 to save a friend from alcohol poising.
Good Samaritans saving drug overdose victims
A similar bill signed into law in September 2017 offered protection from illegal drug possession charges. The law, LB 487, works when you or someone you’re with is experiencing a potential drug overdose.
The law comes with basic conditions to receive protection. It requires you to stay at the scene until the authorities arrive and to cooperate with medical personnel and police. If you do this and you are the person doing the helping, you get full immunity from drug paraphernalia and drug possession laws.
These laws help save lives. It was a common occurrence that a friend who could have called for medical help didn’t because they were afraid of legal consequences. After multiple advertising campaigns, the message got out there and fatalities decreased.
Defending your rights
The personal injury attorneys at Powers Law understands that people want to help during emergencies. If you are wondering how Nebraska Good Samaritan Laws can affect you, please call us for a consultation.