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James Schaller, MD Lives as a Good Samaritan
Carrying 25 CPR Items 24/7

Dr. Michaels always goes to diner under the name Mr. Jones, since he has decided to never assist someone in medical need. "I am not getting sued." he says. I understand. You can protect someone from sudden illness, choking, a heart attack, asthma or assault, and end up sued or arrested.

Here is some basic information on medical protection of others.

First, look up how most die. And determine what knowledge you have and what tools you can carry to help other people. A physician working in an ER will be able to use the most tools, a physician with advanced life support training and study can carry more than a nurse. If you think more than you do, you may be sued.

Suppose you go to the theater with a friend who is an attorney and one of the performers collapses on stage. The lights go on, and the theater manager steps up to the microphone to issue those terrifying words: "Is there a doctor in the house?" As you wonder what to do, many questions flash through your mind. Your lawyer friend nudges you, and you raise your hand reluctantly. Talk about immediate legal advice: en route to the stage, you ask your friend the questions that are on your mind.

This is a true story that happened to me. The following are some of the questions my physician friend/volunteer asked me.

Do you have to volunteer? No, you don't have to volunteer. If you do help you can always be sued.

Some states, including Vermont, Minnesota, and Louisiana, attempt to mandate aid... But where is the 100% protection these states offer?

Declining to volunteer is not a crime. There is no civil liability for not volunteering.

Doctors are not immune from liability when acting as Good Samaritans.

For example, if you initiate first aid but then walk away from the scene before emergency medical services arrive. Once you begin to render aid, it is advisable to stay unless you need to call for help, or some expert arrives and takes over.


Some states have enacted legislation in an effort to encourage volunteering to help the indigent, but most do not afford such protection.

Some states provide protection only if the emergency is the result of an accident.

One New York case holds the more common position that a true emergency does not require an accident. In this case, the physician was protected in a non-accident emergency. A doctor was stopped in the lobby of his apartment building by the superintendent's wife, who begged him to look at her husband. He took the man's pulse and heart rate, then called for an ambulance. The superintendent died at the hospital. The widow sued the doctor for wrongful death.

In Indiana... a physician was called to a home by a neighbor who was having chest pains. The doctor made a house call, examined the patient, diagnosed pleurisy, prescribed medication, and asked the patient to call if symptoms didn't improve. The patient's husband called an hour later reporting a respiratory incident. The physician returned, found the woman in full cardiac arrest, and initiated cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), but the patient died. A court ruled that the doctor should be held to the standard of ordinary negligence.

Patients who receive emergency aid may offer you a gift in appreciation. If you graciously accept, you must make it clear that the gift should not be considered remuneration.

Giving free informal medical advice is not a protected event. Except in an emergency, you won't be protected from a lawsuit just because your services are voluntary and uncompensated.

Defending a lawsuit is inconvenient, time-consuming, and aggravating. Even if you are named in one and later exonerated, you would have had to take the time to defend yourself.

Naming a volunteer in a lawsuit seems like the height of ingratitude. In one case, a doctor who performed an emergency tracheotomy on a patient who was not breathing was later sued because the patient's voice changed.

Source of most ideas is Lee J. Johnson, JD

Bank Towers, Tamiami Trail, Naples, FL
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