Physicians treating patients are under a duty to provide care that meets certain standards of care. This is due to the fact that physicians have a fiduciary relationship to their patients. But what about physicians who are treating people with whom they have no relationship at all? For example, a physician pulls over at the scene of an accident and, through a sense of civic responsibility, delivers health care. Can that physician then be sued if the injured persons do not survive? This article will review Good Samaritan laws and explore variations among states.
Good Samaritan laws generally provide basic legal protection for those who assist a person who is injured or in danger. In essence, these laws protect the “Good Samaritan” from liability if unintended consequences result from their assistance. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have some type of Good Samaritan law. Who is protected under these laws (physicians, emergency medical technicians, and other first responders) and how these laws are implemented vary from state to state. In addition, some states extend Good Samaritan liability protection to cover business and nonprofit entities acting during an emergency.