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California’s Good Samaritan Law

In California, there is no duty to rescue or assist another person who is in danger or in an emergency situation. This means that you cannot be held liable for not helping out; neither a lawsuit nor criminal charges can be filed. But, of course, it is generally a good thing when people help out in an emergency. EMTs and other emergency responders cannot always get to the scene of an accident immediately, and help from others can save lives and prevent further injuries. California public policy favors encouraging people to help those who are in need during emergencies and are at a risk of harm. To that end, California has a Good Samaritan statute, which provides protection against lawsuits for those who aid others in an emergency situation. The Statute: California law provides that if a person renders emergency medical or non-medical care, at the scene of an emergency, that person will not be civilly liable for harm resulting from an act or omission if:

  • The help was offered without expecting any payment or reward;

  • The assistance was made in good faith; and

  • There was no gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.

The statute does not cover emergency departments and other medical care professionals, so if an emergency care provider causes an injury while attempting to aid a person in danger, the victim may have the basis for a personal injury suit. Medical and Non-medical Emergencies: California’s statute provides protection for rescuers in both medical and non-medical emergencies. Prior to 2009, it only covered medical emergencies. In 2008, a case reached the California Supreme Court in which a woman crashed her car into a light pole. A second woman pulled the first woman out of the car, because she believed that the car was going to catch fire. Before she exited the car, the first woman could move her legs, but she ended up paralyzed and blamed the rescuer. The rescuer claimed that the Good Samaritan statute applied, because she was providing care in an emergency. The court, however, ruled in favor of the injured woman, holding that the statute only covered medical care, and that moving someone to a safer location was not medical care. This decision, however, was not popular, and shortly thereafter, the law was revised to include non-medical emergencies. Purpose: The Good Samaritan statute states that its purpose is to encourage people to help others who are in trouble, and to volunteer their assistance without compensation. It is also designed to ensure that rescuers act responsibly in providing emergency care.


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