Failure to stop and render aid
April 2, 2007 5:44 AM   Subscribe

Do I have to stop and render aid when witnessing an accident?

My coworkers and I had an argument the other day concerning the law on stopping and rendering aid. We live in Texas, and I had been told since I got my driver's license (about twelve years ago) that if you witnessed an accident, you had to stop and call authorities and render aid, if you could. I had heard that if you just drove off, you were committing an offense.

But, someone asked a state trooper and he said this was not the case. Anyone know the law for Texas and/or other states? And does every state honor the good samaritan laws?
posted by chitlin to Law & Government (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No, you do not need to stop and render aid. It's the nice thing to do, but you don't have to. Good Samaritan laws (according to the instructor of the Advanced First Aid class I took to work on a rescue squad) are honored in every state.
posted by plinth at 5:58 AM on April 2, 2007

No, you're not required by law to stop and help someone in Texas. However, if you do stop, in Texas you have an obligation to render reasonable aid. In fact, Texas' requirements for Good Samaritan protection are a little more stringent than most states- it doesn't shield you if someone is under medical transport, in a hospital or care facility, or if you'd ordinarily be paid for the service (you, as a doctor, come to help someone else's patient.) Statutes listed below for your perusing pleasure, but basically, don't stop if all you're going to do is stand there and scream.

Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. §779.006 (West 2000)(AED immunity)
Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. §779.001 (West 2000)(AED definition)
Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. §779.002(West 2000)(AED training)
Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. §779-003 (West 2000)(AED maintenance)
Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. §779.004 (West 2000)(AED use)
Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. §779.005 (West 2000)(Not. Reqs.)
Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. §779-006 (West 2000)(Owner Reqs.)
Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. §74-74.001 (West 1977)(Liability Immunity)
Tex. Civ. Prac. & Tem. Code Ann. § 74.002 (West 2000)(Lic. Req.)

(Text Cite)
posted by headspace at 6:06 AM on April 2, 2007

There is no affirmative duty to rescue. I don't know about Texas law on reporting an accident, or Good Samaritan laws, though.
posted by ibmcginty at 6:07 AM on April 2, 2007

Agreed, you have no obligation to stop. In fact, good samaratan laws rarely fly; its generally seen as a greater restriction on liberty if the government forces you to do something (i.e. render aid) than prevents you from doing something (i.e. no murdering people).
posted by craven_morhead at 6:17 AM on April 2, 2007

Good Samaritan laws are generally to protect people who render aid from liability. For example, if you broke someone's ribs while administering CPR. As far as I know, there's no law requiring you to help someone, despite what happened on the final episode of Seinfeld.
posted by electroboy at 6:19 AM on April 2, 2007

The biggest thing to know here, though - and I can't stress this enough - is that if you do stop and do begin to render aid, you can't just stop. The theory here is Nonfeasance and Malfeasance. While you have no legal requirement to render aid to someone in distress, if you decide to attempt a rescue of a person, you are now on the hook to do everything reasonable to assist this person to the best of your ability. There are exceptions to this rule, but its dangerous to try and remember them. As a brightline rule, simply remember that if you decide to get involved, you're liable if you don't do everything a reasonable person would do to help the injured.

IAN(Y)AL. Consult competent legal council licensed in your area.
posted by plaidrabbit at 6:29 AM on April 2, 2007

As far as I know, Vermont is the only state to have an affirmative duty-to-rescue Good Samaritan law.
posted by walla at 6:48 AM on April 2, 2007

This is a bit more complicated though. Quite a few states have Good Samaritan laws which do not protect non-medical persons. So if you stop and decide to give CPR, and break a few ribs in the process, you can be sued. The reaction to that is to stop and do what you can but fall short of CPR to protect your liabilities, but if it can be shown that you know CPR you're headed for negligence territory. I say territory rather than guilt because regardless of guilt, depending on how things work out, the good samaritan could run into financial difficulties in protecting themselves under such a trial.

So all in all, you are taking a big risk by stopping to aid another if you are in a state which doesn't protect you. We were warned about this in CPR classes in Maine and specifically told to think twice before helping or even stopping to help anyone in Massachusetts. Compare Texas and Rhode Island (clearly protects non-medicals); Maine (hard to tell, probably on purpose); and Mass (nothing at all for non-medicals). Full index.

Everyone in the class, myself included, made a moral decision that chapter 11 was better than watching someone die and doing nothing, but other's mileage may vary. I'd be glad to be proven wrong though so let's have it... any lawyers out there?
posted by jwells at 6:48 AM on April 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Why the hell would anyone argue about this?
Funny you should mention this - the example my instructor used was from an off-duty EMT who witnessed a near-full term woman collapse in a parking lot from what was later determined to be alcohol poisoning. Her heart stopped twice and twice he started it again. He left her in the hands of EMTs who were on-duty. She and her child died. Her family sued (and the case was summarily dismissed under good samaritan laws).
So in answer to your question why someone would argue about it - in this case, because they were distraught and a lawyer saw the potential for some serious cash from an out-of-court settlement. Taking it to court is the ultimate argument.
Why argue about it casually? Because it's human an interesting.
posted by plinth at 6:50 AM on April 2, 2007

Morally, if you have the ability to help, you should.

Legally, the Good Sam laws vary quite a bit by state, and some /many medical professionals have been successfully sued. Even when they were not negligent, because they had deep pockets.
posted by theora55 at 6:54 AM on April 2, 2007

Your co-workers may be confused because there is a duty to immediately render aid if you are involved in an accident (Tex. Transportation Code § 550.021 et seq). If you are involved in an accident resulting in injury or death and you do not perform this duty, you are liable to imprisonment for up to five years and a fine of up to $5,000.
posted by grouse at 7:03 AM on April 2, 2007

You're confusing US Good Samaritan laws for European ones....from Wikipedia:

"Good Samaritan laws in the United States and Canada are laws protecting from blame those who choose to aid others who are injured or ill. They are intended to reduce bystanders' hesitation to assist, for fear of being prosecuted for unintentional injury or wrongful death. The name Good Samaritan refers to a parable told by Jesus in the New Testament (Luke 10:33-35).

In other countries (as well as the Canadian province of Quebec), Good Samaritan laws describe a legal requirement for citizens to assist people in distress, unless doing so would put themselves in harm's way."

From the same page:

In the United States
Though the details of Good Samaritan laws in various jurisdictions vary, some features are common:

General guidelines
Unless a caretaker relationship (such as a parent-child or doctor-patient relationship) exists prior to the illness or injury, or the "Good Samaritan" is responsible for the existence of the illness or injury, no person is required to give aid of any sort to a victim.
Any first aid provided must not be in exchange for any reward or financial compensation. As a result, medical professionals are typically not protected by Good Samaritan laws when performing first aid in connection with their employment.
If aid begins, the responder must not leave the scene until:
1) It is necessary in order to call for needed medical assistance.
2) Somebody of equal or higher ability can take over.
3) Continuing to give aid is unsafe (this can be as simple as a lack of adequate protection against potential diseases, such as latex gloves to protect against HIV) — a responder can never be forced to put himself or herself in danger to aid another person.

The responder is not legally liable for the death, disfigurement or disability of the victim as long as the responder acted as a rational person of the same level of training would have under the same circumstances.

In some states, even being a licensed (off duty, non practicing) EMT can mean you are no longer protected from Good Samaritan laws....I had an instructor who advised you should never tell anyone about your EMT training at the scene of an accident while offering off-duty assistance in the capacity of a private citizen.
posted by availablelight at 7:04 AM on April 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Actually, there seem to be a couple of states other than Vermont, including Rhode Island, that require you to help in an emergency (if there's no danger to yourself). It also could depend on the situation -- if you're witnessing a crime or child abuse instead of just an accident, for example. This article provides an overview. IANAL.
posted by walla at 7:07 AM on April 2, 2007

I won't give you any legal advice, but I will say this: as a citizen driving around Texas, I would not feel I had a legal obligation to stop and render aid because I do not.

If that was a legal obligation, wouldn't you expect every person on the highway to stop during every fender bender?

Also, headspace: the statutes you are citing are not all applicable here. Texas has some Good Samaritan statutes that apply to health care providers (especially the CPRC 74 provision) that do not seem to be at issue in this question.
posted by dios at 9:07 AM on April 2, 2007

dios- just trying to be complete; I have no idea what training or expertise chitlin might have, so on the off chance that he's a volunteer firefighter/citizen first responder in addition to Land Surveyin' for a living, I just included them all.
posted by headspace at 9:56 AM on April 2, 2007

It can get even muddier when the damn lawyers get involved.

From what I've been told by lawyers & other health care professionals (at least in California) is that if I, an EMT, stop to assist in basic first aid within the EMT-I scope of practice, that the Good Sam laws will protect me. However, given the enormous costs of having to defend yourself against a bullshit lawsuit in court, many health care professionals will choose to not stop & render aid at the scene of an accident while off-duty.

For negligence, 4 factors have to be present. Duty to Act, Breach of Duty, Damages, and Cause.

But it really does suck when the first thing that we have to consider before helping someone is "Could this get me sued?"
posted by drstein at 12:59 PM on April 2, 2007

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