Published 1/1/2014
Theodore J. Clark, MD

Hope for a National Good Samaritan Law?

In deciding whether or not to provide care in an emergency—such as those discussed in the article “On Call at 30,000 Feet” (AAOS Now, September 2013)—physicians will inevitably take into account concerns about potential liability. Although the Aviation Medical Assistance Act “and other Good Samaritan laws” (including those covered in this issue’s article on “Liability and Good Samaritan Laws,” page 34) provide some protection, the U.S. volunteer system still has unaddressed gaps, most notably in the event of a wide-scale disaster.

This is why all healthcare providers should support HR 1733, the Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act. This law, if enacted, would offer reassurance concerning potential medical professional liability claims for physicians who wish to provide assistance when a major emergency arises.

HR 1733, introduced by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), provides explicit protection from medical professional liability claims to the men and women who are so critical to minimizing the harm that disasters, whether natural or man-made, can inflict. This legislation will make it easier to rapidly deploy healthcare services across state lines, by providing immediate and clear civil-suit immunity for all healthcare workers who volunteer their services to treat victims of a federally declared disaster. Currently, due to the limited scope of state Good Samaritan laws, no such broad-based protections exist.

In 1997, to provide some measure of protection for volunteers, Congress passed the Federal Volunteer Protection Act (FVPA). However, this law has limitations. It covers only volunteers who offer services in their home state and who are affiliated with a charitable organization. Although certainly a significant step, the FVPA is insufficient in the face of a national crisis.

In-flight emergencies are rare—only one such event occurred for every 604 flights flown between 2008 and 2010. But the time to prepare for a rare event is now, not after it happens. If HR 1733 is enacted, physicians will be able to respond immediately to a federal disaster, without having to second-guess themselves about potential medical professional liability issues.

The Physician Insurers Association of America (PIAA), the insurance trade association that represents medical professional liability entities, with support from the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the American Medical Association, the American College of Surgeons, and other medical organizations, is leading the efforts to make The Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act a reality. For more information, visit www.piaa.us

Theodore J. Clarke, MD, chairs the PIAA board of directors and is chairman and CEO of the COPIC Companies, medical liability insurance providers.