The Good Samaritan Act of 2001 allows individuals in Ontario to help other people and protects them from any kind of liability resulting from their actions.
The intent of the law is to encourage people to do what’s right, without fear of personal repercussions.
If you remain at the scene of an accident and give first aid to someone there, you may be protected so long as a couple of criteria are met:
- That you are helping voluntarily and not in the expectation of being rewarded in some way;
- That your help includes providing first aid or assistance to someone who is “ill, injured or unconscious as a result of an accident or other emergency”. (Source)
- That you weren’t grossly negligent in providing the aid. What exactly defines ‘gross negligence’ is up for debate, but the point is that even if you screw up your assistance, you may still be protected.
So if you were giving a victim CPR and accidentally broke one of their ribs by applying too much pressure, that’s an acceptable error. If you decide to perform a tracheotomy on someone who isn’t breathing, even though you’re not a doctor or surgeon but because you saw it performed on an episode of Grey Anatomy? That’s wading into gross negligence territory.
If Good Samaritan Laws Exist, Why Is There No Legal Duty To Help?
The reality is that not everyone is able to help and their help could in fact create more problems.
For example, if you moved an accident victim with a broken back, you could in fact make the injuries worse.
In most of Canada, there is an assumption that bystanders and witnesses will do their best, but requiring them to do so by law isn’t a part of our legal tradition.
Other countries, including France and Germany, have made it crime if you DON’T help someone in distress or danger, which can come with penalties including fines and prison time.
One of the most famous cases in recent history was the arrest of the photographers who chose to click their shutters rather than help Diana, Princess of Wales, and the other victims, in the aftermath of the accident in the road tunnel in Paris.
The case against nine photographers was eventually dropped after two years.
The requirement to help is also contingent on not putting oneself in danger by doing so. Interestingly, in Germany, you must have a CPR and general first aid certificate to get a driver’s license, so you can see to what extent they take the duty of care seriously.
Further Protections For Good Samaritans In Specific Circumstances
There are two very specific instances where good samaritan laws have been made clearer.
One is in the use of a publicly placed automatic external defibrillator (AED). The Chase McEachern Act became law in 2007, protecting people if they used an AED on someone who seemed to be suffering from a cardiac emergency.
Another interesting instance is the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, where bystanders who call the police to help someone who is suffering from a drug overdose will not themselves be charged with possession related offences.
“The impact of the opioid crisis continues to be devastating to individuals, families and communities. Many of these deaths are preventable if medical attention is received quickly, but evidence shows that witnesses to an overdose often do not call 911 for fear of police involvement.” (Source)
Helping out someone who has been a victim of an accident, whether that’s rendering first aid, calling for emergency support or just being a witness that will help them down the road when they are working with the police and a personal injury lawyer, is just being a good human being.
If we all did a little more to help others, this world would be a better place.
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