It’s a popular myth that people in the US get sued for everything all the time including for providing bystander initiated CPR. The National Academies Press (‘… created by the National Academy of Sciences to publish the reports of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’) has just published a report – ‘Strategies to Improve Cardiac Arrest Survival: A Time to Act’ (Institute of Medicine, 2015). The report is free to download.
The report identifies that a barrier to bystander initiated CPR is fear of legal liability and it makes some recommendations to make ‘Good Samaritan’ laws consistent across all of the United States. The interesting commentary is at p 113-114. The report says (references omitted; emphasis added):
A fear of legal consequences and a lack of familiarity with Good Samaritan laws are frequently cited as reasons for not performing bystander CPR. These fears are not without justification: although a bystander has no legal duty to rescue, there can be legal consequences for intervening. Theoretically, a member of the public could be sued for providing bystander CPR; however, the committee is unaware of any successful suit of this type. To mitigate the confusion and fear of potential rescuers, CPR instructors are urged to inform trainees of the protections available for lay rescuers in their area.
Let me repeat that, even in the United States the Committee was ‘unaware of any successful suit of this type’. (Let me also clarify that even in the US it is not true that ‘Theoretically, a member of the public could be sued for providing bystander CPR…’ What is true is that ‘Theoretically, a member of the public could be sued for negligently providing bystander CPR provided the plaintiff could show that the outcome would have been different had the CPR not been negligently performed …’ but see ‘CPR success: TV v Reality‘ (September 3, 2015)).
In Australia the Review of the Law of Negligence (Commonwealth of Australia, 2002) also reported that:
… the Panel is not aware, from its researches or from submissions received by it, of any Australian case in which a good Samaritan (a person who gives assistance in an emergency) has been sued by a person claiming that the actions of the good Samaritan were negligent.
Even though there has been no successful action of this type, either in the US or Australia, Australia has developed Good Samaritan laws in each state. As recommended by the Institute of Medicine, first aid instructors should be aware of the legislation applicable in their jurisdiction and should ‘inform trainees of the protections available for lay rescuers in their area’.
For Australian Good Samaritan laws see
- Civil Laws (Wrongs) Act 2002 (ACT) s 5;
- Civil Liability Act 2002 (NSW) s 57;
- Personal Injuries (Liabilities and Damages) Act (NT) s 8;
- Law Reform Act 1995 (Qld) s 16
- Civil Liability Act 1936 (SA) s 74;
- Civil Liability Act 2002 (Tas) s 35B;
- Wrongs Act 1958 (Vic) s 31B;
- Civil Liability Act 2002 (WA) s 5AD.
For discussions on the application and effect of that legislation see:
- ‘American Good Samaritan protected by Ohio Statute’ (May 20, 2015)
- ‘Good Samaritan legislation and scope of practice’ (March 27, 2015)
- ‘Insurance for first aiders’ (August 13, 2014)
- Nurses as ‘good Samaritans’ – can I be liable if I do stop?(March 22, 2014).