Good Samaritan Law: First on the Scene
You have two options when you come across an accident: stay or go. If you stay, you could be an immense help to someone who is injured or trapped. It could also put you in danger. If you go, you may suffer a strained neck from trying to observe the accident, but that will be the end of it. Good Samaritan laws in Florida will protect you if you stay or if you go.
You Don’t Have to Stay
Florida law does not require anyone to stop at an accident. This applies to medical personal as well. If you are able to help, but find yourself in a situation where you cannot or won’t due to personal reasons, that is okay. There is always risk in helping people in an accident. You don’t have to involve yourself in that risk. Trained emergency personnel are able to assess the situation and avoid injury more easily than the layman. Stopping may also impede the living circumstances of your passengers. It may make them late for work. If you have children in the car, it would be negligent parenting to leave them unattended. Even the most well-intentioned person may have to drive by an accident depending on the circumstances.
If You Stay, You Have a Duty
If you decide to respond to the scene of the accident, then you have a duty to act if you can. This means acting in a way that is reasonable. It does not mean pretending to have medical knowledge. This could further harm the injured people in the accident. Instead, your duty is to not make the situation worse by your action, or lack of action.
Florida’s Good Samaritan Act
While you may have a duty to act, Florida law protects you from the civil liability in many cases. Title XLV Chapter 768 on negligence includes section 768.13, which is the Good Samaritan Act. This statute states that no person shall be liable for civil damages, if the person acted in a reasonable manner and without the objection of the injured party. They are liable if their lack of action exacerbates harm, or the person relied on the Good Samaritan and suffered more injuries. This isn’t meant to scare people away from helping others who may seriously need it. Instead, it is meant to ensure that people who decide to help, keep a clear head and don’t act recklessly.
Safety When Arriving at an Accident
Aside from liability, a person who is first on the scene must keep safety as a top priority. The person is likely pulling to the side of the road, and there could be other traffic at the scene of the accident itself that could pose a threat. Here are some tips to keep everyone safe.
1. Don’t park too close:
You want to be a help, not a hindrance. It can be assumed that emergency vehicles are on their way. You may be calling, or someone else might call, but they need room. Every situation leaves different opportunities for parking, but try to keep a reasonable distance. Fire trucks, ambulances, and law enforcement vehicles take up quite a bit of space.
2. Put out flares:
Make sure you turn on your flashers and put out any emergency notification devices you may have like flares or triangles. Your safety first, then you help. This may seem self-centered, but you aren’t going to be any help if you cause a second accident.
3. Call emergency services:
Once you have found a safe place to park your vehicle, call emergency services. Let them know your location to the best of your ability and any details about the accident that you can see, so they can better respond.
4. Assess the scene:
Is there a fire? Is the vehicle safe to be approached? Don’t immediately run to the accident without first assessing the danger you’re getting yourself into. You are already acting heroically. There’s no need to put yourself at risk of injury.
5. Offer appropriate help:
If you are medically trained, go ahead and act within the scope of your professional training. If you aren’t, this does not render you unable to help. Your presence can calm the person injured or stuck in their vehicle. Holding a person’s hand can offer a ton of help to the adrenaline-filled accident victim while you both wait for emergency services to arrive. If you cannot offer medical support, offer emotional support until medically-trained professionals arrive.
6. Leave you contact info:
Are you a witness to the accident? You may have details about the scene that could help officers or health care professionals. Stick around for a bit after emergency personnel take over, and make sure the police have your contact information in case they need anything following the stabilization and treatment of the injured.
Acknowledge Your Limitations
Auto accidents can cause neck and back injuries, and a Good Samaritan can paralyze a person by moving them inappropriately. Good intentions can yield very negative results, so know your limitations and don’t do more for the injured party than you know how. If you make a person’s injuries worse by “helping” in a manner that is obviously more dangerous than waiting for medical personnel, you could potentially be held liable.
Don’t Be Afraid to Help
Despite the potential liability, don’t be afraid to help those when you have a clear opportunity. If a person trapped in a vehicle has an obvious obstructed airway, and the obstruction can be easily removed, you could save a life without any medical expertise. This is a much better option than leaving a person suffocating, and your lack of action would only harm and possibly kill the person. The law protects Good Samaritans who do what they can to help, and the courts simply don’t want you to hurt people while trying to be a hero in an overzealous and dangerous manner.
Good Samaritans Can Be a Problem
It sounds unbelievable that a Good Samaritan could be sued, but if you think about it, it makes sense. Imagine being in an accident and being trapped in a vehicle. You don’t feel any injuries, and you tell the first person on the scene that you want to wait for emergency personnel. The person refuses, and forcefully removes you from your vehicle. In the struggle, the person dislocates your shoulder and exacerbates an unknown neck injury. Waiting for medical personnel wouldn’t have cured the neck injury, but the EMTs would have correctly stabilized the injury. The liability should deter people from doing more harm than good when they arrive first on the scene of an accident.
If you would like a no-obligation consultation with an attorney, please contact Kirshner, Groff & Diaz. You’ll get to speak firsthand with an attorney who cares about getting you fair compensation for your injuries and one who prides himself in being available for each of his clients.