No good deed goes unpunished. With this old saying in mind, you may wonder whether it’s in your best interest to stop and help someone who has been involved in a car accident. What if you try to help someone but make the situation worse?
In some cases, injured people have tried to sue people who wanted to help them after an accident. Fortunately, in many states, including North Carolina, Virginia, and Mississippi, Good Samaritan laws can insulate you from liability if you’re providing assistance in good faith after a crash.
State Good Samaritan laws
Good Samaritan laws are designed to encourage people to help each other during an emergency. If the law didn’t offer these protections, people would be less likely to stop to help people who have been injured in an accident.
Here’s a quick look at the Good Samaritan laws for North Carolina, Virginia, and Mississippi.
North Carolina’s Good Samaritan Law says, “Any person who renders first aid or emergency assistance at the scene of a motor vehicle crash on any street or highway to any person injured as a result of the accident shall not be liable in civil damages for any acts or omissions relating to the services rendered, unless the acts or omissions amount to wanton conduct or intentional wrongdoing.”
Virginia’s Good Samaritan Law provides, “Any person who in good faith, renders emergency care or assistance, without compensation, to any ill or injured person (i) at the scene of an accident, fire, or any life-threatening emergency . . . shall not be liable for any civil damages for acts or omissions resulting from the rendering of such care or assistance.”
Alabama’s Good Samaritan law states, “No person shall be subject to criminal liability pursuant to this section in the event he or she renders first aid or emergency care at the scene of an injury caused by a motor vehicle crash or by some other incident, or at the scene of a mass casualty or disaster if (a) the first aid or emergency care is rendered gratuitously and in good faith; and (b) the first aid or emergency care is not rendered in the course of a business, program, or system which regularly engages in the provision of emergency medical care.”
How to avoid liability under Good Samaritan laws
The key to avoiding liability under these state laws is to act in “good faith.” A person acts in good faith so long as they have the best interests of the injured person at heart. That means you’re volunteering to help someone.
If you’re paid to give aid — if you’re a medical professional who is being compensated to help in this situation (and not a doctor who just happened to come by the scene of a car accident) — you don’t qualify under this statute. And if you have an ulterior motive in helping an accident victim, such as trying to help so they don’t hold you liable or call the police, you aren’t acting in good faith.
Otherwise, as long you avoid intentional wrongdoing, which is intending to hurt someone, and avoid acting with conscious disregard for a victim’s safety, you aren’t likely to be at fault for any help you try to give at an accident scene.
So, if you were to pull an accident victim from a burning car after an accident, that would be acting in good faith. But if you then lay the victim down in a lane of heavy traffic, that would be acting with conscious disregard for their safety, because you put them in harm’s way.
Steps you can take to help an accident victim
If you’re worried about stepping over the line in helping a car accident victim, there are still several things you can do to be of assistance.
- Call 911 and give your location and details of the accident to the dispatcher so they can send the appropriate emergency responders. Always do this, even if you also try to render aid.
- Pull onto the shoulder and turn your hazards on to notify oncoming drivers of the accident.
- Talk to the victim, reassuring them that you’ve called for help and will stay with them until help arrives.
- Stay out of the roadway.
- Keep a lookout for possible hazards.
- Unless there is an apparent grave danger (a fire), leave the victim in their position until they can be attended to by medical personnel.
- Write down any details about the accident if you witnessed what happened.
If you or your loved one has been injured in an accident, or if you’ve seen an accident and tried to help a victim, you may need a personal injury lawyer’s help to decide what to do next. Give us a call or send us a message to learn more about your rights in this complicated situation.