Encouraging People to Offer Assistance to the Injured Following an Auto Accident or Other Emergency
The religious parable of the Good Samaritan goes something like this: a Jewish traveler who was severely beaten and stripped of his clothing was left to die alongside the road. A priest and a Levite come by, but both ignore the injured man. Then a Samaritan appears on the scene and helps him — even though Samaritans and Jews strongly disliked each other in those days.
That is the premise behind Good Samaritan laws, which are intended to protect those who give reasonable assistance to people who are injured, ill, or otherwise suffering. All states have enacted some sort of Good Samaritan law, which aims to calm the fear often experienced by bystanders when they decide whether to attend to an injured or ill person and risk being sued for inadvertent injury or wrongful death.
Colorado Good Samaritan Law
Colorado’s Good Samaritan law protects certain medical professionals from being exposed to civil liability for offering help to a person (not their patient) at the scene of an auto accident or other emergency. Some of the medical practitioners who could be offered Good Samaritan protection in Colorado include:
- Licensed doctors and nurses
- Doctors of Chiropractic
- Physical therapists
- Certified emergency medical technicians (EMTs).
To be afforded these protections, the Good Samaritan must not accept compensation and the assistance cannot be considered grossly negligent or provided recklessly without regard for the safety of others. A Good Samaritan who commits an error while providing emergency care cannot be held liable for damages in court as long as:
- The aid was given in an emergency situation.
- The Good Samaritan had no motives other than to help the injured person.
Likewise, the Good Samaritan’s employer is not liable for the conduct of his employee while providing emergency care if the employee:
- Provides the care while he is in the course and scope of his employment with the employer
- Acted in good faith and was not grossly negligent.
Good Samaritan Laws and the Opioid Epidemic
Overdose is common among individuals who use opioids, including heroin. In the past decade, the number of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. has increased more than 100 percent, and deaths from prescription painkillers have increased four-fold since 1991, according to the Trust for America’s Health. Some states, including Colorado, have laws in place that give a degree of immunity from criminal charges or modification of penalties for helping people experiencing a drug overdose. The levels of immunity provided vary according to state.
Colorado is one of only 17 states and the District of Columbia that have rescue-drug laws in place that provide lay people access to naloxone, a prescription drug that can be used to counteract a drug overdose. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 200 community-based overdose prevention programs are authorized to distribute naloxone, leading to more than 10,000 overdose reversals between 1996 and 2010.
Good Samaritan laws are in place mainly to encourage people to get involved and help people in distress without putting themselves at legal risk for simply trying to do the right thing.