Vail Daily column: Good Samaritan laws
The biblical parable of the good Samaritan goes like this: As recounted in Luke 10:25-37, an expert in law stood up to test Jesus. He asked, “What must I do to earn eternal life?”
Jesus replied, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”
The expert in law answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, love your neighbor as yourself.”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But the expert in law wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
A “good Samaritan” has since become part of our common lexicon, its connotation having come to mean one who helps another in good will. One need not be an adherent to a particular religion — or any religion at all — to abide by the maxim that lending a hand to one in need is at the core of our common humanity.
Despite the constitutional separation of church and state memorialized in the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”), the law and religion have much in common; both establish codes of living albeit from somewhat different perspectives. Yet both are based on principles of decency, fairness, morality and the high virtue of just getting along.
Where the biblical parable and the law intersect is in what are known as the good Samaritan laws. In legal terms, a good Samaritan refers to one who renders aid in an emergency to an injured person on a voluntary basis.
In most states, unless it’s part of a job description (such as a firefighter or a paramedic), an individual is not obligated by law to come to the aid an injured person. Like the Levite or the priest, one can simply get on down the road. And if one does in fact lend aid, she must generally do so “non-negligently,” assisting the person in distress with reasonable care. Some states, however, consider it an act of negligence, if one does not at least call for help.
Generally, where an unconscious victim can’t respond, a good Samaritan can help on the grounds of “implied consent.” However, if the victim is conscious and can respond, a person should first ask permission to assist.
Although some states offer immunity to good Samaritans, helping negligently may nonetheless result in a claim against the person who stopped to render aid, particularly if the injuries or illness were made worse by the volunteer’s ministrations. Yes, yes, this smacks a bit of “biting the hand that feeds you.” However, under those good Samaritan laws that do grant immunity, if the good Samaritan makes an error while rendering emergency medical care, he or she will not be held legally liable for damages. In such cases, however, two conditions usually must be met: One, the aid must be given at the scene of the emergency, and, two, if the “volunteer” has other motives — such as the hope of being paid a fee or reward — then the law will not apply.
Good Samaritan laws generally do not apply to a person rendering emergency care, advice or assistance during the course or regular employment, such as services rendered by a health care provider to a patient in a health care facility. In such circumstance, the aid rendered must be in accord with the aider’s professional responsibilities and training.
So what does the great state of Colorado have to offer?
In Colorado, the law protects only medical professionals. If a person without official medical training attempts to help an injured person and injures the person further, he or she may be held responsible for those subsequent injuries.
In May, 2012, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the 911 Good Samaritan Law which, in order to address an epidemic of drug overdoses, provides limited protections from charge and prosecution for possession of small amounts of drugs if one calls for help. However, those who sell drugs are not protected under the law.
So should you stop and render aid? That remains largely a decision of conscience. Although the law may not explicitly protect you, juries are human, too. If your motives were pure and you did your best, many juries would be slow to punish. And yet, the biblical story notwithstanding, helping when help is not required may reinforce the sad axiom that, “No good deed goes unpunished.”
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 and at either of his email addresses, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.