In a hospital or doctor’s office, physicians and other healthcare providers are required to treat patients according to the appropriate “standard of care.” The standard of care can vary – for example, what constitutes appropriate medical action in an emergency room situation may be deemed inappropriate under normal, more-controlled circumstances.
Ultimately, however, the question comes down to one of negligence: Under the circumstances, was the physician or other medical professional negligent in treating the patient’s condition? If so, and if the patient suffers as a result, the patient may be able to pursue a claim for medical malpractice. If not, then the patient may be on his or her own to deal with the consequences of the doctor’s mistake.
But, what are the laws outside of the medical setting?
When Good Samaritan Laws Apply
All 50 states have Good Samaritan laws in place that protect medical responders from liability in situations involving volunteer response to emergencies. These laws apply in situations such as:
- A nurse driving home from work sees an accident on the side of the road and stops to help the victims while they wait for the ambulance to arrive.
- A doctor on vacation at the beach renders medical aid to a person who is pulled injured or unconscious from the water.
- An off-duty EMT witnesses a bicycle accident and stops to render assistance to the injured rider.
In any event, the keys for Good Samaritan laws to apply are (i) that emergency medical aid is necessary, and (ii) that the doctor or other medical responder is not acting within his or her job duties at the time medical aid or treatment is rendered.
Connecticut’s Good Samaritan Law Provides Limited Immunity for Medical Malpractice
Connecticut’s Good Samaritan Law states that doctors, nurses, EMTs, and certain other medical professionals who:
“voluntarily and gratuitously and other than in the ordinary course of such person’s employment or practice, renders emergency medical or professional assistance to a person in need thereof, shall not be liable to such person assisted for civil damages for any personal injuries which result from acts or omissions by such person in rendering the emergency care, which may constitute ordinary negligence.”
In plain English, what this says is that licensed medical professionals who voluntarily render emergency medical assistance are not liable if they negligently cause an injury in the course of rendering that assistance.
What this does not say, however, is that Good Samaritans can never be sued for injuries that they cause. For example, treatment that is “grossly” negligent (i.e. when the responder consciously disregards a risk) can still give rise to a claim for damages. Likewise, if the person who provides assistance is actually on duty (in which case they are not technically a Good Samaritan), then ordinary medical malpractice rules may apply as well.
These are just a couple of the primary examples. There have been numerous cases in Connecticut under a wide variety of circumstances where responders have been denied protection as Good Samaritans. Connecticut’s Good Samaritan law is extremely complex, and individuals who are injured while receiving medical treatment should not simply assume that they cannot recover compensation.