The Good Samaritan Law
Just recently, three employees at a senior living center in Georgia were arrested for allegedly videotaping a patient who had suffered a stroke. The three women were in charge of monitoring the patient when the incident happened. Someone eventually saw the video and reported it. As a result, all three women were fired and charged with exploiting an elderly or disabled person. Did they have to help the patient? If a similar situation were to take place in Indiana, what are the criminal and civil consequences? Let’s examine the Good Samaritan Law and how it can be applied in certain situations.
What is the Good Samaritan Law?
In Indiana, along with many other states, people are granted immunity from civil liability after assisting others in medical emergencies. This is known as the Good Samaritan Law. Pursuant to Indiana Code § 34-30-12-1 which reads, in part, as follows:
(b) Except as provided in subsection (c), a person who comes upon the scene of an emergency or accident, complies with IC 9-26-1-1.5 , or is summoned to the scene of an emergency or accident and, in good faith, gratuitously renders emergency care at the scene of the emergency or accident is immune from civil liability for any personal injury that results from:
(1) any act or omission by the person in rendering the emergency care; or
(2) any act or failure to act to provide or arrange for further medical treatment or care for the injured person;
except for acts or omissions amounting to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.
For example, if you were a bystander who witnessed a car accident and one of the drivers needed medical attention, this is where the law can come into play. But what exactly are the civil and criminal ramifications associated with Indiana’s version of this Good Samaritan Law?
Indiana’s Civil Ramifications
With the example of a car accident in mind, if the bystander were to assist the person in need, the bystander cannot usually be found liable or sued based on their actions. If the bystander were to unintentionally create another injury to the accident victim – unless the bystander significantly or intentionally created more harm than good – they cannot be found liable for that injury. On the other end, if the bystander did not do enough to help the victim, they still cannot be found liable or sued due to a lack of action.
In essence, these Good Samaritan Laws are aimed to encourage individuals to help others in need. Fears of being brought into a lawsuit diminish since these laws protect people acting in good faith, which is why the laws were put into place. Although there may be civil liability immunity for acting, is there a possibility you may be charged criminally if you don’t try to help?
Indiana’s Criminal Ramifications
If the bystander in the previous car accident scenario were to do nothing about the situation, they cannot be criminally charged. Although it may seem as if a bystander has to assist after witnessing an incident, in Indiana, they legally do not have to help. Indiana’s statute does not address criminal charges for a bystander who does not take action. This is commonly known as a duty to rescue or report.
Many other states have similar statutes that do not require rescue or report. In Georgia, where the senior living incident occurred, there is no law requiring people to assist or report information if someone is in need. The three women who did not help were arrested, not for failure to help, but because they video recorded and broadcast the elderly woman in need. Even though Indiana may not have criminal ramifications, there are some states that have such a statute.
Which States have a Duty to Rescue or Report Law?
Like Indiana, people in many other states are not legally obligated to help and assist others in need. However, 10 states have laws that do mention a bystander’s duty to report or assist others in need. These states include: California, Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin. Each state’s statute differs.
In Minnesota, if a bystander witnessed a car accident, that bystander has a duty to assist. In the statute, it requires individuals to make a reasonable effort to assist a person in need. Another example is in Wisconsin. Wisconsin statute requires bystanders who have knowledge that a crime has been committed and a victim needs medical attention, that bystander must assist the person in need as well as report it.
Florida Drowning Incident
One other state that has a duty to report or assist law that we can look at is Florida. Last year, a viral video emerged showing a man drowning in a pond in Cocoa, Florida. Five teenagers watched the incident and filmed the man as he drowned. The teens did not make an effort to help the man, and as a result, the man died after drowning. Did they have a duty to help the man?
After concluding an investigation, prosecutors determined the teens could not be charged with a crime. Even with a duty to report statute in place, Florida’s duty to help requirement only addresses sexual battery cases. If a witness sees a sexual battery incident, the witness must report it to the police or else they could face criminal charges. Therefore, the teens were not legally bound to assist the man or report it.
Many states have pushed new legislation that acknowledges bystanders’ duties to help in situations like those in Georgia and Florida. As mentioned before, only a small percentage of states have a Good Samaritan Law requiring individuals to assist or report. With many cases emerging each year and the rapid spread of videos, the push to enact new laws will become more prevalent in the future.