You’ve finally reached the end of a long week and are driving home from work. Or, maybe you’re still at work, at school, or watching a game. Suddenly, without any warning, you witness a serious and terrifying accident. The victim is seriously injured and needs help. You’re scared that if someone doesn’t step up and help, they could die.
This scenario is the reality for so many. Accidents happen. Goodhearted people step up and save the lives of strangers every single day in this country. But, what happens when these generous and compassionate acts don’t help but in fact, make the situation much worse?
What happens when an individual is in desperate need of urgent medical attention? And, what happens when there aren’t any doctors, nurses, law enforcement officers, or first responders present – no one with any relevant experience that can provide emergency medical services? Are community members obligated to provide emergency medical help?
The risks for helping someone in need are high. Helpless bystanders may feel as if they’re attempting a ‘Hail Mary’ by helping, and in some cases, that’s the only option.
Those who feel a moral obligation to step up typically don’t consider the civil liability associated with an attempt to provide emergency medical care. And, we’d like to think those good samaritans wouldn’t be held liable for trying to save a life. Sadly, this isn’t always the case.
So, what is the civil liability of helping a person during a medical emergency when you don’t have any training? Below, Chicago personal injury lawyers at Curcio Law Offices explain the Good Samaritan Law Illinois.
What is the Good Samaritan Law?
The term, “good samaritan” typically refers to the biblical parable of the good samaritan. The story explains that an abused and beaten traveler had been left for dead on the side of the road. Many people passed by until someone stopped to help. The person who helped was coined “the good samaritan.”
All 50 states have good samaritan laws. In general, these laws protect the good samaritans who provide help during an emergency and accidentally further injure the victim in the process. In other words, good samaritan laws protect a good samaritan from being held liable for negligence if the attempted rescue doesn’t go well.
Every state has its own type of good samaritan law. While some states only protect trained and licensed healthcare providers, other states protect anyone, regardless of his or her training.
Why Was the Good Samaritan Law Created?
Good samaritan laws provide numerous protections to those trying to help. These laws are in place to encourage people to step up and help when such services could save someone else’s life. The threat or fear of litigation would be a major deterrent to a bystander witnessing an emergency.
In some situations, calling 911 and waiting isn’t enough. Even in ideal situations, an emergency medical technician may take up to 15 minutes to arrive. For busier cities, this time can be closer to 30 minutes.
For some emergency situations, such as a cardiac arrest, every single minute matters. With each passing minute, the person’s prognosis declines by 10%. Someone helping in good faith could mean the difference between a total recovery and organ failure or death.
A good samaritan law ensures that anyone who is able can step in and help without worrying about being the target of a legal investigation or battle.
What are Good Samaritan Laws in Illinois?
Our state’s good samaritan law explains that you have absolutely no “duty” to rescue another person. You aren’t required to provide first aid, take the person to the emergency room, provide emergency medical help, or render aid in any capacity.
In the state of Illinois, you cannot be held liable for inaction. That is, unless you caused the injury. However, you can be held liable if you provide emergency services and your good faith attempt goes awry.
Illinois Good Samaritan Law as a Defense to Negligence
In order to use Illinois good samaritan law as a defense to negligence, your situation must meet four elements:
- The assistance you provided was given as a result of a serious emergency.
- You didn’t cause the emergency situation.
- Gross negligence was not involved in emergency care provided.
- If the person experiencing the emergency was coherent or able to respond, he or she must have given permission for the first aid or care administered.
Let’s break this down a little more.
Duty to Treat
Under the Illinois good samaritan law, regular citizens have no “duty to treat.”
Duty to treat simply means that a medical professional already has a preexisting responsibility to do so. This can be because they are paid to respond, in the case of an EMT or doctor, or because they’re legally required to do so.
The Illinois good samaritan law doesn’t protect professionally trained medical personnel operating in an official capacity. So, if an emergency medical technician is called to the scene and doesn’t follow protocol, they can be held liable for their actions or inaction.
One important consideration for the good samaritan act is that the person providing care did not do so with gross negligence.
Gross negligence is typically defined as the failure to act with a standard level of competence that an average person would have exercised in the same or similar situation.
So, if an automated external defibrillator user follows the instructions to the best of their ability and still experiences an unfortunate result, they cannot be held liable. But, if that same person ignores the instructions and breaks the victim’s rib, that could be cause for a lawsuit.
The Illinois good samaritan law requires that a person providing emergency help must obtain permission from the victim to help. However, certain circumstances can obviously prohibit this. In the case where the victim is unconscious or unable to respond but immediate medical attention is needed, the good samaritan is protected under the principle of implied consent.
The good samaritan act, in terms of assisting a minor, is relatively similar. The same protections apply. However, if a good samaritan comes to the aid of a person under the age of 18, they must receive permission from the child’s parent or guardian if they can.
If the parents or guardians are unavailable but emergency care is needed immediately, the good samaritan should still be protected under implied consent.
In general, the law will be on the good samaritan’s side, as long as he or she is acting in good faith and providing assistance to the best of their ability.
Willful and Wanton Misconduct
Willful and wanton misconduct disqualifies any person administering emergency care from protection under Illinois good samaritan laws.
For example, if a volunteer EMT or nurse fails to act in accordance with standard procedure while “on duty,” he or she isn’t shielded from civil liability.
Willful and wanton misconduct also applies to any person offering assistance but doesn’t act as a normal person would, given the circumstances. So, for example, say a passerby responds to a car accident and smells gas or spilled fuel. If that person proceeds to light their cigarette and causes the car to catch fire, the “volunteer” can be liable for damages.
Seeking Emergency Medical Services for Drug Overdose
Drug and opioid overdose has become a real problem in the past decade, particularly in Chicago. Prescription opioids are one of the most common gateways to more dangerous drugs like heroin.
The fear of obtaining a felony drug charge means that friends of a drug user may be afraid to call for help if a person overdoses.
Illinois law protects those who seek emergency medical assistance during a suspected drug overdose. This is often referred to as the 911 good samaritan law or the drug overdose immunity law.
This law isn’t available in every state and the specifics vary across the states that do have this law in place. But basically the law grants at least some level of immunity for those who call 911 if another person overdoses or if a potential overdose threat exists. They also can protect the person who overdosed.
Immunity Provided for Possession Offenses
Those who call for help or take someone to an emergency room during a suspected drug overdose are immune from certain charges.
Both the person seeking emergency medical services and the person who overdoses are protected from prosecution for the felony possession of the following:
- Fewer than three grams of morphine
- Fewer than three grams of heroin
- Fewer than forty grams of prescription opioids
- Fewer than three grams of cocaine
- Fewer than forty grams of peyote
- Fewer than forty grams of amphetamine
- Less than forty grams of any substance containing a schedule 1 or 2 narcotic that isn’t expressly stated in the law
This law is not intended to protect drug dealers. If a person dies from a drug or opioid overdose, then the distributor or seller or the product can still be prosecuted for a drug induced homicide in Illinois.
Emergency Medical Technician Protection Under Good Samaritan Law Illinois
Emergency medical technician professionals and first responders are protected by certain immunity laws but are held by various other regulations within the state.
When an EMT acts as a volunteer, he or she usually is immune via state level government protection. Illinois has laws in place that ensure emergency medical technician personnel are safeguarded against personal injury lawsuits, if he or she accidentally injures a patient during treatment, especially in emergency situations.
However, both negligence and intentional harm are typically within the bounds of litigation if the victim can prove that the EMT did not act according to the standard protocol or that the EMT willfully harmed the victim.
In Illinois, good samaritan laws in relation to emergency medical technicians can get very technical. If you were injured by an EMT, we advise calling a Chicago personal injury lawyer for a free consultation.
Good Samaritan Laws and Personal Injury Victims
Good samaritan laws are in place to protect those who genuinely try to help those in need. However, a good samaritan, regardless of how well-intentioned they may be, can cause just as much, if not more damage than a person who directly causes an injury.
Neither party should have to bear the financial burden of the injuries that resulted from emergency assistance. If you or a loved one were hurt due to the negligence of another person, you can speak with an experienced Chicago personal injury lawyer at Curcio Law Offices.
We understand that all situations are not black and white. Life doesn’t always hand us “cut and dry” situations. Sometimes a “good samaritan” isn’t as nice as they seem on the outside. If a person “helped” while on a controlled substance or while drinking, their mental capacity may have been compromised. If they hadn’t “come to your rescue,” then another, more qualified person may have stepped up to help.
The situations that merit civil liability may be few, but they certainly still exist. Our personal injury attorneys will listen without judgment and provide legal advice while your information remains completely confidential. Call us today at 312-321-1111 today.