How Good Samaritan Laws Protect Some Individuals From Medical Malpractice
A mistake by a doctor, nurse, pharmacist or other health care practitioner can leave a patient much worse off than when he or she first sought treatment. Errors in U.S. hospitals leave as many as 440,000 dead each year, which is why attorneys with Agee Clymer Mitchell & Portman in Columbus and in cities across Ohio dedicate themselves to helping victims of medical malpractice.
The equipment, expertise, and assistance available in hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and doctors’ offices should prevent harm. But what happens when lifesaving care must be rendered at the scene of a car accident or other life-or-death situation in Ohio? Can emergency medical technicians, off-duty health care providers, or even untrained individuals acting as Good Samaritans be held to normal standards for keeping patients safe and alive?
The simple and usual answer is no. A full explanation for why requires understanding how Ohio law defines “Good Samaritan” and when liability for committing avoidable mistakes while providing emergency medical care can exist.
EMTs and Kind Strangers Generally Cannot Commit Malpractice
Since 1977, §2305.23 of the Ohio Revised Code, which is better known as the Good Samaritan Law, has explicitly exempted almost all people who provide on-site care to victims of accidents, fires, explosions, near-drownings and natural disasters from getting sued for malpractice. Here is the full text of the surprisingly straightforward statute:
No person shall be liable in civil damages for administering emergency care or treatment at the scene of an emergency outside of a hospital, doctor’s office, or other place having proper medical equipment, for acts performed at the scene of such emergency, unless such acts constitute willful or wanton misconduct.
Nothing in this section applies to the administering of such care or treatment where the same is rendered for remuneration, or with the expectation of remuneration, from the recipient of such care or treatment or someone on his behalf. The administering of such care or treatment by one as a part of his duties as a paid member of any organization of law enforcement officers or fire fighters does not cause such to be a rendering for remuneration or expectation of remuneration.
Even more simply stated, EMTs, law enforcement officers, fire volunteers and professionals, and people who step up to assist another in danger of dying cannot be sued if chest compressions break ribs, a victim dies before reaching an emergency room, or brain damage develops despite the administration of rescue breathing or supplemental oxygen.
Off-Duty Doctors and Nurses Are Good Samaritans
To allow medical professionals to assist in emergencies without fearing malpractice claims, state law also gives off-duty physicians and other providers acting outside their normal workplaces Good Samaritan status. To get a sense of how this medical malpractice waiver applies, imagine a doctor on her way to vacation helping a fellow airplane passenger who has suffered a heart attack.
Exemptions to the Good Samaritan Law Do Exist
As stated in §2305.23, paid staff in hospital emergency departments can be held liable for medical malpractice, as can anyone who refuses to help a person in distress until they secure a promise of payment. Also, anyone who deliberately acts in ways they should know will harm an accident victim may be named in a claim for damages. The Ohio State Bar Association cites stealing from injured or dying person as an action that would exempt someone from Good Samaritan protections.
Were You Harmed Instead of Helped by Emergency Medical Care?
Agee Clymer Mitchell & Portman medical malpractice lawyers can answer your questions about Ohio’s Good Samaritan law. We offer free consultations, so we may be able to help you even if we do not take your case. Contact us today if you think someone hurt you further following an accident.