Have you ever been afraid to help someone because you might be sued? Fear not. Or at least fear less. This article discusses the rights of Good Samaritans.

The Term

What is a Good Samaritan? The phrase originates in the Bible when (of all people) a lawyer asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. (Luke: 10:30-37) Jesus told a parable of an injured person who was ignored by various upstanding citizens but was ultimately helped by a foreigner from Samaria who became known as the “Good Samaritan.”

The point is that we should act like the Good Samaritan and show mercy on others.

Instead of showing mercy, many people move to the other side of the road and then blame lawyers, who they think might sue them if they negligently help.

The Law

Washington, however, has a law, RCW 4.24.300, that protects most people who assist at the scene of an emergency, even if their efforts aren’t perfect.

Limits

Of course, this law doesn’t mean that a Good Samaritan can’t be sued. There are exceptions for “willful or wanton misconduct” or even “gross negligence.” But it requires something much worse than a mistake, to not receive the benefit of the law.

For instance, the Washington Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit against parents who waited 30 minutes before taking their son’s girlfriend from their home to a hospital after their drunken son had knocked out five of her teeth.

Since they provided emergency transportation, and even though there was evidence that they told the girlfriend “to say that she had fallen down,” they were not liable as a matter of law. (Youngblood v. Schireman)

The Rescue Doctrine

The Rescue Doctrine is the flip-side of immunity for Good Samaritans. This doctrine allows a Good Samaritan (here called a rescuer) to recover damages from a person rescued if the rescued person negligently caused a dangerous situation that invited the rescue. The idea behind this doctrine is that “danger invites rescue.”

The Washington Supreme Court used the Rescue Doctrine to allow a man to sue an SUV manufacturer after he stopped to help a driver whose SUV had rolled over.

After assisting the driver, as he walked on the shoulder with a lit flare, the rescuer was struck from behind by a hit and run vehicle.

The Court held that the manufacturer could be liable if a jury determined that it was foreseeable that a defective SUV could roll and that a rescuer could be injured. (McCoy v. Suzuki)

Summary

Under the Rescue Doctrine, if a drunk driver crashes and you stop to help and are injured in the process, you have a claim against the drunk.

In this same situation, with Good Samaritan rule, so long as you aren’t drunk or getting paid, if you try to help and negligently injure the drunk, you would most likely have a complete defense against a lawsuit by the drunk.

So go ahead, be a Good Samaritan— show mercy and help someone in need.

 

by, Bob Anderton

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