A woman was filling up her car with gas at a gas station around midnight on the city’s outskirts. The only other customer, a man in his 50s, heard a strangled moan. He looked over to see the woman slump against the side of the car and then collapse to the ground.

With some first aid training in his background, the man had the presence of mind to open the woman’s airway and listen for breathing. Nothing. No breath. With a surge of adrenaline, the man motioned the gas station attendant to call 911 and then looked back down at the unconscious woman.

The Good Samaritan Law

(ArtisticOperations / pixabay)

The man knew that if the victim had suffered a sudden cardiac arrest, she would start experiencing brain damage within four minutes and could be dead in six. CPR was her best chance for success, and he knew how to administer it, but as he looked down at her chest, he hesitated.

Was it right to put both of his bare hands on the front of the woman’s chest? In the center of that imaginary line stretching from the woman’s armpit to armpit, as the first aid instructor had taught him?

The unconscious woman wore a tank top and shorts appropriate for the summer night’s balmy temperature, yet the man felt a trickle of cold sweat run between his shoulder blades. He wanted to escape but knew that the station’s security cameras would record his car license plate.

Not wanting to be sued, he decided against performing CPR. He felt helpless as he leaned on the car, waiting for the ambulance to come.

First, it’s important to note that this man did help the woman. He noticed the emergency and sent for help. Calling an ambulance with trained medical staff and an AED was the single most important thing that he could do in the situation, and he did it.

However, knowing more about the Good Samaritan law might have eased the man’s discomfort and fully saved the woman’s life. Good Samaritan laws are on the books in all 50 States, including Nevada.

According to the American Heart Association, bystander CPR can dramatically improve a cardiac victim’s chance of survival – doubling or tripling the chances of a full recovery. In 2017 and 2018 studies, men had a significantly higher rate of receiving bystander CPR than women, translating into higher odds of survival than women (see source and source).

Most researchers attribute this gender disparity to a cultural hesitancy around approaching or touching women in public. The gender disparity disappeared when researchers studied rates of CPR administered in home settings, where a bystander would typically be a family member.

Whether it’s pushing on a woman’s chest to perform CPR, removing a woman’s upper clothing to attach an AED, or performing back blows or chest thrusts on a choking woman, men may hesitate to give emergency aid to female strangers out of undue fear from legal reprisal.

Is a man liable for touching an unconscious woman without her verbal consent? What if, in trying to help, he unknowingly causes her injuries to be worse? What if I’m the casualty in a Good Samaritan situation and feel that the “Good Samaritan” has caused me either physical or emotional harm?

Here’s a quick review of the Good Samaritan law from our North Las Vegas accident lawyers.

The Good Samaritan Law

Nevada’s Good Samaritan law protects any (non-paid) person who tries to help another person in an emergency, even if the so-called Good Samaritan makes mistakes in the attempt.

The Good Samaritan Law in the #MeToo era

First aid situations in which Good Samaritan laws would protect a man touching a woman:

  • Pushing on a woman’s chest to perform CPR
  • Removing a woman’s upper clothing to attach AED pads
  • Applying pressure to a serious bleed anywhere on an unconscious woman’s body
  • Performing back blows or chest thrusts on a choking woman (unable to speak)
  • Carrying or dragging an unconscious woman away from a dangerous environment
  • Approaching a collapsed woman

Preserving Dignity

Whether a casualty is a man or a woman, preserving dignity in a first aid situation should be a consideration. First-aiders can ask bystanders to keep crowds away, put away their cell phones unless they are calling 911, and use blankets or jackets to cover unnecessary exposure.

Never talk about an unconscious person in a derogatory way or refer to their situation as hopeless. Hearing is the last of the senses to disappear when a person becomes unconscious. You will not be helping your unconscious patient recover if they hear you saying things like, “Looks awful – I don’t know how anyone could survive this,” or commenting on the person’s clothes or weight.

CPR

It’s OK to touch someone you don’t know if you are helping someone who might die. If a person is conscious enough to talk, then get permission to help. However, if the casualty isn’t conscious, they can’t give informed consent, and you should take immediate action to save their life. Poor CPR is better than no CPR. The Good Samaritan law protects bystanders from lawsuits when they are acting in good faith to help another.

Choking

A choking victim who can still talk should be carefully monitored and not left alone. But once a choking victim can only silently nod when you ask, “Are you choking?” then it’s time for back blows and chest thrusts. If the choking victim doesn’t respond to back blows and chest thrusts and becomes unconscious, then it’s time for CPR.

Refuse Help

What if the casualty is conscious but won’t consent to my helping them?

In situations of medical shock, casualties may become confused and even aggressive. It might seem obvious to you that the casualty needs medical help, but if the casualty is conscious enough to refuse help, and chooses to refuse, then you need to back off. Depending on the situation, you can back out of earshot and call either 911 or the police.

An exception should be made if a confused or aggressive person is refusing medical help but endangering others.

Illegal Substances

What if I think my friend has overdosed, but if I call for help, we will both be incriminated for illegal drug use?

According to an add-on to the Nevada Good Samaritan Law (the “Good Samaritan Overdose law”) adopted in 2015, you will be protected from narcotics-related offenses if you get medical help for another person experiencing a drug-related medical emergency. This law includes situations of potential opioid overdose, an increasing cause of concern for medical professionals and policymakers in Las Vegas.

Involving a Personal Injury Lawyer

There are exceptions to the Good Samaritan law, and your injury lawyer may be the best person to assess whether your situation involves such an exception. If someone tries to help you in an emergency but they are grossly negligent or act recklessly, the Good Samaritan law will not protect them from the injuries they might have caused (or increased) by their negligence. If you think someone has made your injuries worse or caused injuries by their poor judgment or neglect, contact an accident injury lawyer near you to discuss your case.