In the United States, The Good Samaritan doctrine is utilized by rescuers to stave off negligence suits arising from the rescue. The reasoning is to encourage emergency assistance by eliminating the threat of law suits for damage done by the rescue. The rescue, however, must be reasonable. Someone rendering emergency assistance won’t be shielded by the Good Samaritan doctrine if the assistance is grossly negligent or reckless.
Three important factors are needed to support a claiming of the Good Samaritan doctrine: (1) the assistance must have been given due to an emergency situation, (2) the initial injury or emergency situation was not caused by the person claiming the defense, and (3) the rendered emergency assistance was not provided in a reckless or grossly negligent fashion.
For example, a person has tripped and fallen on a sidewalk, has landed on his or her head, is unconcious in a deserted area, and the weather is bitter cold. A passerby discovers the injured individual and moves the person to warmth and safety, but in the process aggravates the leg injury. In a negligence case by the victim seeking damages for the exacerbated injury, the rescuer may successfully defeat the suit under the Good Samaritan doctrine.
The Good Samaritan doctrine is also utilized as a defense by persons who act to stop or limit property damage. If a person sees that a fire has started just outside a cabin in the woods and that individual breaks into the cabin to search for a fire extinguisher, he or she will not be legally responsible for damages arising from the forceable entry. If this same person hits the cabin with a wrecking ball to put out the fire the fire, this in all likelihood will be deemed reckless or grossly negligent and the Good Samaritan doctrine will not provide immunization from a law suit seeking damages to the cabin.
Pursuant to section 324 of the Restatement of Torts, an individual is legally responsible for an injury resulting from the failure to exercise reasonable care if the failure increases the risk of injury, if the person rendering the assistance has a duty to give assistance, or if other people are reliant on the rescuer.
Most states observe the Good Samaritan doctrine through their respective state laws or case law. Some states codified the doctrine into law by statute. The State of Florida, for example, in Florida Statute 768.13 (2) (a), provides that that a rescuer will be immune from civil liablity for actions during a rescue as long as the rescuer has acted as a “reasonably prudent person would have acted under the same or similar circumstances”.
Other states such as Indiana and Alabama have enacted statutes that protect specific types of emergency care or assistance. Alabama has given immunity to those assisting in a release of hazardous materials situation. Indiana protects the emergency care given by veterinarians.
The Federal government has gotten involved as well when it passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 which gave immunity from negligence suits to individuals who are involved in oil cleanup efforts. It makes the customary exception in the case of grossly negligent or reckless conduct.