Hundreds of orthopedic surgeons recently traveled to Washington D.C. to lobby on behalf of some pending legislation. The Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act (H.R. 1876) is a measure that allows healthcare providers to offer aid in areas of crisis outside of their state without fear of facing potentially frivolous lawsuits. It is an effort between state medical boards and the federal government to encourage volunteering among medical providers.
Good Samaritan laws have been well-established for years. These laws grant immunity to anyone rendering emergency assistance to someone needing it; however, this legislation formally extends this immunity with federal approval.
Examples of When Needed
Many trained medical providers could be a tremendous help to victims in situations such as the hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, the mass shooting in Las Vegas, or some of the acts of terrorism we have experienced. Many of these professionals may be hesitant to lend a hand if in doing so they place themselves at risk to face potential legal ramifications.
In times of sudden disaster, regulations have discouraged physicians and other trained professionals from considering whether to go beyond their own state lines. Medical malpractice insurance policies will typically only provide coverage for those operating in a professional capacity within their state of licensure. This law provides a welcome solution to these concerns.
Details of the Bill
The immunity afforded to licensed medical professionals applies under the following conditions:
- The individual is acting as a volunteer assisting in a disaster or emergency area
- The assistance is provided during the disaster period with good faith effort
- Any act or omission resulting in harm by the medical provider is not willfully committed misconduct, any act of recklessness, or an example of gross negligence
- The medical professional was not under the influence of alcohol or another intoxicant at the time that assistance is provided
The legislation was originally promoted by Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy and since been approved by the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee. The Emergency Nurses Association, a group of roughly 42,000, was active in support of the law. In a letter to Congress, the organization recognized the importance of enabling emergency nurses to provide care to those victimized by disasters and other public health emergencies. Dr. Joel Mayerson, a professor at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, explained that medical malpractice insurance is simply limited and offers no potential protection to those operating as a volunteer.
A Good Samaritan is someone who demonstrates unselfishness toward strangers in need. The individual offers aid to those injured on a voluntary basis. When assisting the injured or sick, the individual owes the stranger a duty to act in a reasonably careful manner. In the majority of states, those who may potentially offer assistance are not under an obligation to do so.
Good Samaritan Doctrine
The Good Samaritan doctrine applies to those responding to offer assistance in response to an emergency situation. The injury or emergency is not created by the volunteer. This emergency care and assistance are to be conducted in a manner that is not negligent or reckless in nature.