Good Samaritan Laws & Implied Consent

Numerous stories in the Bible have served as a source of familiar examples in Western legal writing. The Biblical story of the Good Samaritan is one such story, and has lent its name to so-called Good Samaritan laws. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus uses this story to encourage his followers to help others who are in need no matter what the circumstances. The point of Good Samaritan laws, then, is to protect people who act with the intent of helping others.
The classic example used to illustrate this principle is of someone drowning in a lake. If you are walking by the lake and witness someone drowning, and then leap in the water to try to save them, there is no guarantee you will be able to pull the person from the lake. If you are not able to, and the person dies, Good Samaritan laws prevent you from being liable for the person’s death. By reducing this liability, the laws are intended to encourage citizens to help one another.
These laws do not ordinarily protect rescue workers while they are on the job. Their training necessitates considering the situation differently than if a random passerby were involved. Despite this, Good Samaritan laws can sometimes cover rescue workers who are acting in a voluntary capacity: for example, if the person walking past the lake happened to be an off-duty rescue worker.
Although the drowning example is a very straightforward case where these laws apply, in reality such situations can be much different from this and can be very complicated. In most states, it is not illegal NOT to give help to someone in danger. Only in Minnesota and Vermont are people required to act to help the drowning person (or whomever), even if all that means is calling 911. For that reason, although many would find it unethical, standing on the shore watching someone drown is legal in most states.
Other problems can arise when the action the so-called Good Samaritan takes is excessively dangerous or reckless for the situation, beyond what a reasonable person would do. It can be difficult to determine exactly when someone’s actions are “too much.” One issue of particular concern is the idea of “implied consent.” Going to the help of someone who does not consent to your help can be punishable as assault and battery, except in situations where no reasonable person would turn down help. In these cases, if the responding person acted in good faith, they will often not face charges.
Good Samaritan laws help us look out for one another. Many people would be willing to come to the aid of strangers, but only if they knew that their attempts to give help would not result in legal trouble. If you have attempted to aid someone else who was in serious peril, and you are now facing legal charges, the San Jose defense attorney Daniel Jensen can help you. Call him today to learn more!
Joseph Devine