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Good Samaritan Laws (Part 2)

June 6, 2016

Luke 10:25-37 tells of a time when a lawyer asked Jesus to provide further detail as to the instruction of “love thy neighbor” and is answered with the parable of the Good Samaritan.  

It begins with a man who is beaten,  robbed, and left for dead on the side of a road.  As he lies suffering, a man from his community, a fellow “Levite”, approached, saw him and for whatever reason, passed by.  Next, a priest came upon the injured man but he also passed by.  A third man from a different community (Samaria) approached the injured man and stopped to help.  He provided him with clothes, water, and attention.  He helped the man up onto his mule and walked beside him to the nearest town where he paid for him to have a room in which to recover.  This is how “love thy neighbor” was described and the story became known as that of the “Good Samaritan”.

New York’s Public Health Law

Section 3000-a of the New York Public Health law is the first New York Good Samaritan law.  It was enacted in 1984 and provides protection in a civil lawsuit for someone providing aid to another after “at the scene of an accident or other emergency outside of a hospital, doctor’s office or any other place having necessary medical equipment” if they are doing so “voluntarily and without expectation of payment.”  The protection is in the form of the legal standard that is applied to the actions or omissions of the “Good Samaritan” . 

In many civil lawsuits, the legal standard that is applied is one of “negligence” but for the Good Samaritan, that standard is elevated to “gross negligence”.  Negligence is defined as “a failure to use ordinary care”.  By comparison, gross negligence is defined as “a failure to use even slight care” or “conduct that is so careless as to show a complete disregard for the rights and safety of others”.   As a result, if one were being sued there is little question that person would prefer to be judged under the standard of gross negligence.

Different sections of the Public Health law provide this specific protection via this elevated standard to physicians, dentists, physical therapists, and physician assistants, and Section 3000-a applies to all others.

Obviously, the purpose behind the law is to encourage people of all professions to help others in need and did so to minimize their chances of losing any resulting lawsuit.  The law does not specifically prevent a “Good Samaritan” from being sued but it does make it much less likely that the plaintiff will be successful which will impact the decision of a plaintiff’s lawyer to bring a suit in the first place.