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Does It Pay To Be A Good Samaritan?

Last weekend, shortly after my wife and I left our cabin up north on a gorgeous August Sunday afternoon, we came across a serious car accident. There were several cars pulled over to the side of the road, with people standing around. An ATV was upside down and there was a person laying down next to it, who appeared to be seriously injured. The accident must have just happened because there were no police yet at the scene. My wife is a nurse and decided the accident was serious enough for her to want to get out of the car and make sure that no one was seriously hurt. It caused me to think what is someone’s liability for helping someone who is injured in Wisconsin? As my wife walked back to the car, she informed me the person hurt did not appear to have a serious head injury, but was unable to get up. Just as we were pulling away, law enforcement arrived to investigate the circumstances of the accident and to call emergency help for the gentlemen laying on the side of the road.

Wisconsin does in fact have a “Good Samaritan” law. The statute provides liability exemption if the person who offers emergency care complies with the law. The statute states as follow; “Any person who renders emergency care at the scene of any emergency or accident in good faith shall be immune from civil liability for his or her acts or omissions in rendering such emergency care. This immunity does not extend when employees trained in health care or health care professionals render emergency care for compensation and within the scope of their usual and customary employment or practice at a hospital or other institution equipped with hospital facilities, at the scene of any emergency or accident, en route to a hospital or other institution equipped with hospital facilities or at a physician’s office.” see Wisconsin Statute sec. 895.48 (1).

“Emergency care” refers to the initial evaluation and immediate assistance, treatment, and intervention rendered to an injured person during the period before care can be transferred to professional medical personnel. Muller v. Warner Insurance Co., 2006 WI 54, 290 Wis. 2d 571, 714 N.W. 2d 183.

If there is no “emergency care” provided, a caregiver does not receive immunity under the Good Samaritan statute. A Good Samaritan can on their own, make an evaluation and offer immediate assistance, treatment and intervention to an injured person, but then, after that emergency care is provided, the injured person is to be transferred to professional medical personnel. If no medical transfer is done, unfortunately for “the Good Samaritan”, there is no longer immunity under the law.

Notwithstanding the law, nothing was going to prevent my wife, who is a dedicated health care practitioner (nurse) from jumping out of the car when coming across a serious car accident to provide emergency medical care to a seriously injured person. There is no question that my wife did the right thing and was able to quickly evaluate the extent of the person’s injuries and help, until fire rescue and police arrived at the scene.

For an excellent article on the Good Samaritan Law in Wisconsin, see Wisconsin Lawyer, “The Good Samaritan Statute: Civil Liability Exemption for Emergency Care” written by my good friend, Attorney Barry W. Syzmanski.

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