Can You Be Liable for a Failed Attempt to Rescue Someone in an Emergency?

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There is nothing more frightening than being faced with an emergency that involves a stranger in peril. Being present and witnessing someone in danger will invoke, for many, an immediate desire to help. But before you provide assistance, it is important to understand the potential consequences if something goes wrong. Will you be liable for not taking the proper action to save someone or, choosing not to act at all? The short answer is no, you will not be liable if you attempt to help someone in harm’s way and are unsuccessful or if you choose not to offer any assistance at all.

Per Common Law standards, the law is very clear and has been for hundreds of years. This concept is most often been referred to as the Good Samaritan law. The more recent codification of this law is in Part 8 of the Civil Liability Act 2002. 

“(1) A good Samaritan does not incur any personal civil liability in respect of any act or omission done or made by the good Samaritan in an emergency when assisting a person who is apparently injured or at risk of being injured.” 

A second area of law to support this same premise can be found in “Section 57 of the Civil Liability Act. This NSW act protects good Samaritans against civil liability for attempting a rescue or assist a person in danger. To rely on this protection, a good Samaritan must be:

“(a) Unimpaired by voluntary intoxication, including medication; and
(b) Exercising reasonable due care and skill.”

Generally, there are four (4) elements for acting as a Good Samaritan. These elements are:

  1.       Seek permission (usually verbally) from the ill or injured person, when possible
  2.       Give appropriate care in a manner that is not reckless
  3.       You cannot be the person who caused the injury or accident
  4.       You cannot be impaired by alcohol or drug use

If these factors are met, then the person acting and/or aiding another person in danger is considered a Good Samaritan and is not liable if the help offered does not produce the desired result.

However, some exceptions can create a duty of care to act. These include;  

  •  You are the parent or guardian of a minor child
  •  If you are a caregiver over another person

There are also some situations that create liability. If any of these circumstances are present, you can be held liable for any assistance you attempt to provide or choose not to provide, suich as: 

  • There is a dangerous situation on property that you own
  • You create the dangerous situation via your own negligence
  • If you created the dangerous situation
  • If you caused the injury
  • If, as a professional, you had a duty to act and did so negligently or did not act at all
  • If, by your actions, you created a duty of care

In general, if you are acting in the capacity of an ordinary citizen when you are trying to assist someone in peril, you will not be liable if the assistance you offer is not successful or even, possibly, causes more harm than good.

If you find yourself in need of assistance, please contact the offices of Owen Hodge Lawyers. At Owen Hodge, we are always happy to assist clients in understanding the full ramifications of any of your legal needs. Please feel free to call us at your earliest convenience to schedule a consultation at 1800 770 780.



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