Q: How do good Samaritan laws apply to our ministry?

A: Good Samaritan laws apply to ministries in some states.

Good Samaritan laws are state statutes intended to protect individuals from legal liability for providing medical assistance to injured persons in emergency situations. Most good Samaritan laws offer protection only when the person providing medical assistance does so in good faith and without any expectation of receiving compensation for their assistance. The nature of the protection offered varies from state to state.

Ministries should consult with a local attorney to determine how their state’s statute applies to their ministry activities.

States differ in how they treat a good Samaritan in several ways:

  • Do medical professionals and laymen receive the same degree of protection?

Some states provide very little protection for unlicensed individuals. Others provide protection with the condition that an unlicensed person turns care over to a licensed person as soon as possible.

  • Does protection extend to professionals acting within the scope of their employment?

Some states have determined that extending immunity in good Samaritan cases is contrary to doctrines of professional liability while others have not.

  • What circumstances constitute an “emergency” or an “accident?”

Some states include almost any injury—life-threatening or otherwise—in their views of emergency or accidental situations. Other states limit their definition of injury to circumstances in which the victim is in immediate danger of dying.

An additional factor to consider is the extent to which good Samaritan laws protect ministry organizations whose personnel provide emergency medical care. Many statutes do not view immunity for organizations in this way. Those that do frequently focus on officially designated volunteer health care providers (such as the American Red Cross and other similar organizations).

Church First-Aid Teams

A ministry’s liability exposure, related to the provision of medical assistance, increases somewhat if the organization designates individuals to handle medical emergencies. For example, the liability exposure may likely be greater if a ministry-trained first-responder administers CPR than if a medical professional, who simply happens to be present, does so. In the former case, the ministry could conceivably be liable for negligent training, supervision, and the like. This same sort of negligence will be much harder to establish in the latter case. This does not mean that a ministry should not create a team of first-responders, but it does mean that when a ministry forms such a team, it should take care to ensure that medical professionals are involved in developing a well-run program.

Because good Samaritan protection varies from state to state, ministries should consult with a local attorney to determine the scope and application of such laws in their state.

Recommended Resources

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*Important information: Brotherhood Mutual is pleased to provide Legal Assist as a complimentary resource. The services we offer through Legal Assist are intended to provide general legal information to our current and prospective policyholders.

The information we provide is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. Accordingly, no attorney/client relationship is created through this process, and no legal advice will be provided. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.