Springfield Business Journal Articles


Good Samaritan Acts - Does No Good Deed Go Unpunished?

In Springfield we are fortunate to have extremely high quality medical facilities and professionals. But what do you do in a medical emergency if no doctor is immediately available, and what can happen to you if you try to act but make matters worse?

In Illinois, with few exceptions, there is no legal obligation to help a person in an emergency situation. (Whether or not you have a moral obligation depends on your beliefs.) However, if you do attempt to help someone, you can be held liable if you do not exercise due care. Therefore, do not attempt to provide assistance if you have not been trained to do so. No matter how many times you have seen someone on TV give CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), you are not qualified to do so unless you have completed a certified course.

Likewise, automated external defibrillators ("AEDs") are being placed in more locations everyday. For example, Illinois law now requires every physical fitness facility to have at least one AED on premises, by mid-July 2006, with exceptions. But don't assume that you know how to use one of these machines if you have not been properly trained.

If you are a medical professional or you have been properly trained regarding a certain procedure or piece of equipment and you come to the aid of a person in need, Illinois' "Good Samaritan Act" will generally protect you from liability if you act in good faith, without compensation, and comply with generally recognized standards. Specifically, the law provides protection to:

• Persons providing instructions under the Emergency Telephone System Act (911) and persons following those instructions.

• Any person currently certified in CPR who provides emergency CPR to a person who is an apparent victim of acute cardiopulmonary insufficiency.

• Any person who has successfully completed training in the operation and use of an AED who renders emergency medical care involving the use of an AED.

• Any physician, nurse, dentist, optometrist, physical therapist, physician's assistant, podiatrist, respiratory care practitioner or veterinarian who in good faith provides emergency care to a victim of an accident at the scene of an accident.

In addition, the law has a special provision regarding choking in restaurants. "No person is obligated to attempt to remove food from another person's throat, nor shall any person who in good faith removes or attempts to remove food in an emergency occurring at a [restaurant] be liable for any civil damages as a result of any acts or omissions by that person in rendering emergency assistance." Practically speaking, and contrary to the other provisions of the Good Samaritan Act, this means you can attempt the Heimlich maneuver without certification.

Most states have similar good Samaritan laws, however, that does not mean that you can act recklessly or that you might not be found liable even if you act in good faith. In addition, most Good Samaritan laws only cover medical assistance, not other forms of help. A recent case in Fort Lauderdale, Florida illustrates the difference.

On July 26, 2005, Paul Sharkey was drinking coffee at a Starbucks when he saw a man and a woman arguing in a nearby parking lot. Sharkey thought the man was about to hit the woman, so he ran across the parking lot and pushed the man away. The man fell to the ground, striking his head. He died from his injuries on July 28th. As is turned out, the man and the woman were father and daughter, and the daughter did not think she was in danger.

The State's Attorney's office has not yet determined if it will file charges against Sharkey. State Attorney's Office spokesman Michael Edmondson said, "If an individual intercedes in a situation and it either escalates or (the person) becomes an active participant in a violent act, then they themselves become part of the crime and can be arrested and prosecuted, regardless of their motivation. You see it in bar fights a lot. Someone intercedes and a victim can quite often become a defendant and a defendant can quite often become a victim. Circumstances dictate how law enforcement looks at it." Good Samaritan Could Be Charged in Man's Death, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, July 29, 2005.

The bottom line: It's a good idea for all of us to be trained in basic first aid (including the Heimlich maneuver), CPR and AED operation, but if you don't know what you're doing, don't rush in to help. You could make a bad situation worse, and, despite your good intentions, you could face a lawsuit or criminal charges.
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