A reader submitted a question about their state’s Good Samaritan law. He said that where he lived, many individuals could not get the health care they needed, especially those without medical insurance.
He wondered if licensed nurses, who provide what the reader termed “mutual aid” (which is not part of Good Samaritan laws) to those in need, would be protected under an exception in a Good Samaritan law.
Brief overview of a Good Samaritan law
As I wrote in my blog about undertaking the role of a Good Samaritan, you are not legally obligated to provide care to anyone outside of your professional responsibilities to established patients.
If you do decide to stop at the scene of an accident in an emergency or provide care to someone who is experiencing a medical event, you are provided immunity from a lawsuit if an injury occurs during the provision of care to the individual.
Generally, immunity exists if:
- The injury resulted from your ordinary negligence (but not willful or wanton negligence).
- You have no knowledge of any medical or other condition of the individual to whom you provide care.
- No compensation is received for the care you provided.
- You provide care in good faith.
- You were not responsible for the situation in which you provide care.
What is mutual aid?
Mutual aid is defined in many ways, but for the purposes of this blog, I have adopted the characteristics from an article on the Ethical Unicorn website. The article describes mutual aid as individuals coming together as a group to take care of each other. Whatever aid is required is provided in a “spirit of solidarity and reciprocity, with a larger aim towards liberation and progress for all.”
Furthermore, everyone has his or her contribution to the group and everyone has something they need, so the relationships in the group are “symbiotic.” Everyone is seen as equal.
Examples include volunteer-run food pantries, volunteers or organizations providing transportation to medical visits, and computer savvy individuals helping the elderly and homeless sign up for needed appointments.
Although issues of legal liability would seem to be minimal in the above examples, if you as a nurse provided care under a mutual aid approach, do Good Samaritan Laws apply if that care resulted in an injury or death to the person for whom you provided care?
Good Samaritan guidelines vs mutual aid
First, the purpose of a Good Samaritan Law is to encourage you to provide care without concern for liability if your conduct confirms to the required elements listed above. If you were concerned about liability, the theory goes, you would not even think about stopping to provide care in an emergent situation.
As a result, you benefit from providing care within the limits of your education and training, and the individual suffering from an emergent situation is receiving care until first responders arrive. Your intervention may save that person’s life or prevent further worsening of his or her condition. A Good Samaritan law can provide mutual benefit to both patient and caregiver. So, you might argue, the law should apply in a mutual aid model. However, there are problems with that argument.
First, it is assumed that in a “mutual aid” care model, when an individual calls you and asks for nursing care, you will most likely ask what the problem is and if the person ever been treated for the condition. You will then know a bit about what the person’s health situation is. Thus, the second requirement of the immunity under a Good Samaritan law cannot apply.
Second, if you provide care when coming upon an accident or if you are present when someone has a heart attack and stops breathing, you did not intend to be at that place at that time to provide care.
In contrast, the mutual aid model assumes that you would intend to provide care after being called by the individual who needs your nursing expertise in some way. So, it seems unlikely that a Good Samaritan law would provide you with immunity from a lawsuit if your care resulted in injury or death to those to whom you provided care under a mutual aid approach.
Of course, only a court of law can determine if a Good Samaritan law would apply under a “mutual aid” care model. Even without clarity, some guidelines can be considered when providing care as a Good Samaritan or as a mutual aid participant. They include:
- Do not provide any health care or nursing services outside your scope of practice.
- Always use common sense coupled with your expertise when providing care.
- Be certain that in either approach, first responders are called as needed for the injury or medical condition.
- Never accept gifts of any kind for the care you rendered.
- Provide needed information about your care to first responders.
- Provide care in good faith.
- Know your state’s Good Samaritan law.
Take these courses to learn more:
Protect Yourself: Know Your Nurse Practice Act
(1 contact hr)
Nurses have an obligation to keep abreast of current issues related to the regulation of the practice of nursing not only in their respective states but also across the nation. Nurses have a duty to patients to practice in a safe, competent, and responsible manner. This requires nurse licensees to practice in conformity with their state statutes and regulations. This course outlines information about nurse practice acts and how they affect nursing practice.
Everyday Ethics for Nurses
(7.3 contact hrs)
This course provides an overview of bioethics as it applies to healthcare and nursing in the U.S. The course explains the elements of ethical decision-making as they apply both to the care of patients and to ethics committees. The course concludes with a look at the ethical challenges involved in physician-assisted suicide, organ transplantation, and genetic testing.