You’re out for your morning run when you pass a woman lying on the side of the road. She is floating in and out of consciousness and has a visible head wound. What is your legal duty to help? The answer can vary depending on your relationship to the person in need, your contribution to the emergency at hand, and the risks associated with intervening. The following article explores the duty to act focusing specifically on the obligation of healthcare workers.

Generally, there is no affirmative duty to render aid to a stranger in need. But, depending on the circumstances, a legal relationship between parties might be at play that gives rise to this duty. For example, an employer has a duty to care for its employees, a spouse has a duty to care for a spouse, and an educator has duty to care for their pupils.

Though it might be surprising given their Hippocratic Oath, a physician would be legally permitted to continue jogging past the injured woman in this scenario. In the eyes of the law, a physician-patient relationship is contractual and thus, voluntary by both parties. A physician has the right to refuse treatment at any time before the established relationship. This right of refusal extends to a variety of healthcare workers including but not limited to: nurses, medical technicians, and CPR certified individuals.

Imagining a situation in which trained individuals would not intervene to help their fellow man might seem like a dystopian nightmare but it is important to remember there are also legal implications associated with assuming a duty to act. For example, if you attempted to move the injured woman to a soft patch of grass adjacent to the sidewalk and exacerbated her injuries in the process, you could be held liable if you were not an individual awarded protection under “Good Samaritan” statutes or if your conduct is deemed malicious, wanton, or grossly negligent.

Luckily for those that find themselves in need of rescue, Good Samaritan statutes shield certain individuals from liability. These statutes allow for individuals who may fear liability to feel at ease in emergent situations and render aid more effectively.

Under KRS 411.148, a registered or practical nurse, emergency medical technician, American Heart Association or American Red Cross CPR certified individual, or a first aid certified board of education employee is exempt from liability arising out of rescue efforts unless they acted with willful or wanton misconduct.

Furthermore, under KRS 311.668, any individual acting in good faith that renders emergency aid by use of an automated external defibrillator (AED) is exempt from civil liability unless their actions are grossly negligent, or deemed to be willful or wanton misconduct.

If you have questions regarding your status as a “Good Samaritan”, please feel free to contact William “Bill” E. Pinkston at Denton Law Firm located in Paducah, KY. (270) 450-8253.

Researched and Prepared by Morgan Wiggins