Like most other states, Washington has a set of statutes that make it easier to deal with an emergency medical situation. Good Samaritan laws offer limited protection to a person that is attempting to help another person that is in distress. Usually associated with overdoses or other medical emergencies, the purpose behind these laws is to encourage bystanders to get involved in these situations without fear that they will be sued if their actions inadvertently contribute to a person’s injury or death.
This is an important distinction, as many people are hesitant that try to help, and inadvertently making the situation worse could open them up to legal action. However, it’s this hesitation in emergency situations that can make all the difference in the other person’s survival.
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If you or a loved one have found yourself in one of these unfortunate situations, our team of experienced Washington lawyers at Crary, Clark, Domanico, & Chuang, P.S. can help.
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What Is Washington’s Good Samaritan Law?
Codified in Section 24 of the Revised Code of Washington, the state’s Good Samaritan law outlines the various conditions and scenarios in which a person can enjoy protection under this law.
Generally speaking a “Good Samaritan” is any person that:
- Gives aid or assistance to another person during an emergency without expecting to be compensated for their actions, and;
- Is not considered to be a medical professional.
Basically, the law is in place to protect people from criminal liability in the event that their assistance contributes to the person’s further injury or death. While being a “Good Samaritan” is admirable, the fact is that emergency medical situations can be extremely precarious: one wrong move from the person trying to help and it can make an already dire situation much worse.
Although these concerns are valid, providing immunity from liability when acting as a Good Samaritan is an added layer of protection. As long as you don’t act willfully negligent or recklessly when you try to help the other person, the law grants you this protection.
Washington also has a provision known as the “911 Good Samaritan Law”, which holds that a person that is seeking medical assistance for someone experiencing a drug overdose will not be charged with possession of a controlled substance.
Examples of Good Samaritans in Washington
Obviously, there are a number of different situations where Washington’s Good Samaritan law would apply. Aside from the above examples of helping someone who is actively overdosing from drugs, there are a few other common scenarios where you could be a Good Samaritan, including:
- Helping an injured driver out of a car after witnessing them crash into a tree.
- Providing basic medical care to a person after watching them fall off a ladder.
- Rescuing a drowning swimmer and performing CPR on them.
- Assisting someone who is feeling dizzy or confused,
Good Samaritan assistance can even be as simple as providing a blanket, offering water or calling 911.
Again, the main distinction regarding this legal protection is acting willfully negligent or recklessly. When it comes to negligence, there are generally four recognized elements.
- Duty of Care – Acting in a way that would not cause further injury to the other person.
- Breach of Duty – In your attempt to provide care to the person, you caused further injury.
- Causation – The breach of duty caused the further injury
- Damages – The injuries and damages suffered were the direct result of your actions.
Washington–along with other states–makes a further distinction between negligence and “gross negligence” in terms of its Good Samaritan law. Gross negligence is far more serious form of negligence, involving a significant or flagrant disregard for the safety or well-being of others. It is considered to be a more reckless and intentional form of carelessness.
Under the law, Good Samaritan protection only extends to “regular” negligence. If you or another person acts grossly negligent in their attempts to help the other person, they will not be protected by Washington’s Good Samaritan law.
What Are Damages in a Civil Lawsuit?
The motivation for having Good Samaritan laws on the books is not only to encourage people to help others when they’re in need, but to protect them from a civil lawsuit. Good Samaritan laws won’t always stop someone from filing a civil lawsuit against you, but when you know the limits of what you can and can’t do, it will make it harder for the other person to prevail in their lawsuit.
On top of the danger involved in the underlying medical emergency, which can be life-threatening in its own right, any attempt you or another person makes to try to intervene can sometimes add to the injury or can even be fatal. While tragic, this could eventually lead to you being sued. In these lawsuits, the following damages are available:
- Medical bills
- Funeral expenses
- Lost wages
- Loss of future income
- Loss of companionship
- Any pain and suffering felt by the deceased before death
- Property damage
It’s important to understand that any lawsuit has a statute of limitations or a deadline in which a person can file a lawsuit against you. In Washington, the statute of limitations for an injury or wrongful death claim is three years from the date of injury or death.
Dedicated Representation In Washington
The decision to act and help someone in need should never be taken lightly. While many simply react when they see another person in danger, it’s always a good idea to let professionals take over when they arrive on the scene. At the same time, being a Good Samaritan can save a person’s life, especially in dangerous situations.
At CCD Law, we are proud to offer our legal expertise to those that find themselves faced with a lawsuit after simply trying to help. Our team of compassionate and dedicated Washington personal injury lawyers will be with you every step of the way, providing you with the support you need.
If you are in need of legal representation, contact us today for a free consultation.