Imagine this: You’re sitting on an airplane heading to a much-needed beach vacation. After a long couple of weeks running your practice, you can’t wait to get away. You wiggle into your seat, getting as comfortable as possible, and crack open a new novel. The plane has reached cruising altitude, seat belt signs are off, and you’re flipping furiously through your book when a voice comes over the P.A. system:
“Attention please: If there is a medical professional on this flight, please push your call button.”
What do you do? Do you legally have to offer your assistance? Would you be liable if the person’s condition worsened? If you made a medical error, could your entire practice be at risk? This is when the Good Samaritan laws come into play, so you can go ahead and push your call button. Here are some things to know about giving medical help to non-patients.
What Are Good Samaritan Laws?
The term “Good Samaritan” comes from the biblical story of the traveler from Samaria, who stopped to provide aid to a stranger who had been beaten by bandits and left for dead when all other passersby had ignored him.
Common throughout the U.S. (and the world), Good Samaritan laws are designed to promote and encourage this type of human kindness. Most Good Samaritan laws don’t require bystanders to actively provide help, but they do encourage voluntary action by either limiting — or even removing — legal responsibility of the volunteer if anything goes wrong. In Illinois, for example, a person who’s trained in and provides CPR to a person in need is immune from liability for damages that may result from their assistance.
Some Good Samaritan laws actually create a legal duty to rescue others in need, whether you’re a healthcare professional or not. Vermont, for example, requires a person at the scene of an emergency to make an effort to assist in a “reasonable” way. This can be as straightforward as calling 911. However, failure to provide any assistance at all can result in a fine or worse.
The typical Good Samaritan law has the following requirements:
- The injured person must be in “immediate peril” and not object to being helped;
- The volunteer must act reasonably (with standard of care appropriate to their level of expertise) and in good faith;
- The volunteer must not already owe a duty of care to the injured person (e.g., the latter isn’t a patient of the former); and
- The volunteer must not have an expectation of compensation for their help.
How Do Good Samaritan Laws Apply to Healthcare Professionals?
Good Samaritan laws only apply to first-aid situations outside the healthcare provider’s workplace. In a few states (e.g., Wisconsin and Minnesota), they may require healthcare professionals to assist at the scene of an emergency because of Duty to Rescue Laws.
Whatever the case, Good Samaritan laws are designed to protect healthcare professionals from legal responsibility for providing medical assistance to non-patients in an emergency situation. Keep in mind that if you do decide to provide aid, you can still get sued. However, the Good Samaritan law can be your defense in this case, and your medical malpractice policy can help shield you from defense costs and fees.
Why Would I Want to Have Good Samaritan Coverage?
As a healthcare professional, your first instinct is to help someone in distress, even if you’re not on the clock. But if and when you do provide aid, it’s important to be aware that you could be putting yourself at risk. With proper coverage in place, if something goes wrong while you’re performing a Good Samaritan act, you can get legal counsel and be able to pay the expense of settlement or judgment. Ideally, a medical malpractice policy has Good Samaritan coverage (also commonly referred to as first aid coverage) that will:
- Pay your legal fees
- Pay settlement or judgment up to your predetermined limits of liability
- Cover costs of missing work due to court dates
- Handle a claim made against you in your capacity as a Good Samaritan as it would a claim made by one of your patients
Knowing that your insurance policy has your back in such a situation may reduce your reluctance to help a stranger in need.
Is Good Samaritan Coverage Included in All Malpractice Policies?
Most medical malpractice insurance policies will include Good Samaritan coverage. However, there can be certain limitations to what and how much is covered. Some malpractice insurance carriers may only provide you with coverage for expenses (e.g., legal fees), rather than for the settlement or judgment amount (e.g., damages).
Some insurance policies have a separate sub-limit for Good Samaritan coverage, meaning that your coverage would be limited to an amount less than the full per-claim limit of the policy. So, say that you have limits of liability set at $1 million per claim. In this scenario, your policy might only pay up to $25,000 for a Good Samaritan claim.
It’s always great to educate yourself on how malpractice insurance can protect you, as well as what to look out for in certain policies. If you’re looking for more insurance insight, be sure to check out our insurance resource page for simplified educational content and real stories.