In an emergency, an injured person may not be able to call for help and may need to rely on the intervention of passing strangers for assistance. Many states have enacted “Good Samaritan” laws that protect individuals who act in good faith to help others from undue civil or criminal penalties. New York’s Good Samaritan Laws can pertain to preventing a drug overdose death, administering a defibrillator to resuscitate a person in a public institution, or giving life-saving treatment such as CPR in an emergency.
Before Good Samaritan laws, it was possible for a person who acted in good faith to help another person to suffer criminal charges or civil liability. For example, someone sees a man collapse on the street and rushes to perform CPR. They stabilize the man, but breaks two ribs while performing CPR (a common effect of CPR). Without a Good Samaritan law in place, the man could have taken legal action against the person for his broken ribs despite the fact that they acted in good faith to save the man’s life.
Another example could be a heroin user facing arrest and drug charges after calling 911 to report a friend’s overdose. Prior to the enactment of Good Samaritan laws, a person who called for help on behalf of someone experiencing a drug overdose would face arrest for drug use, drug possession, or other drug-related charges. The fear of legal penalties deterred many people from calling for help to report overdoses, and this is just one factor in the ongoing opioid overdose crisis from the past decade.
New York’s Good Samaritan law protects everyone regardless of age who seeks medical assistance for himself or herself or another person experiencing a drug overdose. The person who suffered the overdose would also be immune from some criminal penalties. For example, a person who overdosed would likely have protection from possession charges, but would not have protection from open warrants for arrest, sale or intent to sell controlled substances, parole or probation violations, or felony possession of eight ounces or more of a controlled substance.
New York Public Health Law also requires public institutions and some businesses, like gyms, health clubs, and training centers, to keep and maintain automatic external defibrillators (AEDs), life-saving devices that can provide an electric shock to restart a person’s heart in an emergency. The person who uses an AED must do so in a manner that does not harm the person he or she is trying to help. It’s important to remember that while some institutions must meet their AED maintenance requirements, they are not obligated to use them. A Good Samaritan must volunteer to do so.
The New York Good Samaritan Law derives its name from the Biblical parable of a Samaritan man, generally seen as an outcast, stopping to help an injured traveler on the side of the road. A priest and a Levite had already passed the traveler without offering aid, and the Samaritan, the most unlikely person the traveler could imagine to render aid, carries the injured man on his back to the nearest town and even pays for his care.
Good Samaritan laws empower average citizens to save lives in emergencies without fear of legal repercussions. A “Samaritan” must act in good faith to save a person’s life or provide emergency stabilizing care until paramedics arrive. Ultimately, no one should think twice about trying to save another person’s life. If you offer aid to an individual during a drug overdose, heart attack, or other life-threatening situation and face criminal charges or a civil lawsuit for your actions, contact an experienced attorney to discuss your options and how New York’s Good Samaritan Law applies to your case.