We’ve all heard countless stories of superheroes. Superman and Batman fighting against injustice to save lives. But in the movies, the police were always after them. It almost seemed like, if you wanted to be a superhero you had to face the wrath of the Law. Well, it might be easy for superheroes but not the common man.

The good Samaritan law is a law which safeguards those who want to help fight injustice against police order. Not the batman kind though! You still can’t fight someone on the streets, but you can help people in medical emergencies without being prosecuted. That’s what this law is all about. The Good Samaritan encourages bystanders to help victims in case of road accidents while also protecting them from civil and criminal liabilities.

Who is a Good Samaritan?

A Good Samaritan is someone who extends help to others in times of emergencies, without expecting anything is return. There need not be any sort of relationship involved between the two parties but rather just an offer for help in desperate times.

There are two main reasons why the Good Samaritan law is extremely important in our country

  1. To safeguard people who try to help with good intentions.

This is basically the law in a nutshell. Let’s imagine you saw an accident and you tried to help that person due to which you shouldn’t have to spend the night at the police station or be held responsible for the injuries sustained. According to a survey 74% of the people are unlikely to help road accident victims; 88% of them due to the fear of police prosecution and 77% of them because they don’t want to be detained at hospitals. With the Good Samaritan law, one does not need to be held responsible in these cases.

  • Underdeveloped Emergency Medical Services.

This is a rather unforeseen reason for the law. India has the highest number of road accident deaths in the world with about 15 people dying every hour and almost 60 people being fatally injured in the process. The number of deaths due to road accidents in the past decade is close to one million. About 80% of the road accident victims in India do not receive any emergency medical care within critical hour or the golden hour after an accident. According to the Law Commission of India, 50% of fatalities could be averted if the victims had received timely medical attention.

In a developing country like India, there is total lack of rescue mechanisms in case an accident takes place. In such cases bystanders play a major role in saving lives by taking appropriate measures. Therefore, introducing Good Samaritan law is of huge importance in India.

The law was introduced in India in 2016, where the Supreme Court laid down guidelines for the Good Samaritan bill. It was approved and implemented by the state of Karnataka in the same year.

 Provisions of the Good Samaritan Law.

(1) A bystander or good Samaritan including an eyewitness of a road accident may take an injured person to the nearest hospital, and the bystander or good Samaritan should be allowed to leave immediately except after furnishing address by the eyewitness only and no question shall be asked to such bystander or good Samaritan.

 (2) The bystander or good Samaritan shall be suitably rewarded or compensated to encourage other citizens to come forward to help the road accident victims by the authorities in the manner as may be specified by the State Governments.

(3) The bystander or good Samaritan shall not be liable for any civil and criminal liability.

(4) A bystander or good Samaritan, who makes a phone call to inform the police or emergency services for the person lying injured on the road, shall not be compelled to reveal his name and personal details on the phone or in person.

 (5) The disclosure of personal information, such as name and contact details of the good Samaritan shall be made voluntary and optional including in the Medico Legal Case (MLC) Form provided by hospitals.

(6) The disciplinary or departmental action shall be initiated by the Government concerned against public officials who coerce or intimidate a bystander or good Samaritan for revealing his name or personal details.

 (7) In case a bystander or good Samaritan, who has voluntarily stated that he is also an eye-witness to the accident and is required to be examined for the purposes of investigation by the police or during the trial, such bystander or good Samaritan shall be examined on a single occasion and the State Government shall develop standard operating procedures to ensure that bystander or good Samaritan is not harassed or intimidated.

 (8) The methods of examination may either be by way of a commission under section 284, of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 or formally on affidavit as per section 296, of the said Code and Standard Operating Procedures shall be developed within a period of thirty days from the date when this notification is issued.

 (9) Video conferencing may be used extensively during examination of bystander or good Samaritan including the persons referred to in guideline (1) above, who are eyewitnesses in order to prevent harassment and inconvenience to good Samaritans.

(10) The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare shall issue guidelines stating that all registered public and private hospitals are not to detain bystander or good Samaritan or demand payment for registration and admission costs, unless the good Samaritan is a family member or relative of the injured and the injured is to be treated immediately in pursuance of the order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Pt. Parmanand Katara vs Union of India & Ors [1989] 4 SCC 286.

 (11) Lack of response by a doctor in an emergency situation pertaining to road accidents, where he is expected to provide care, shall constitute “Professional Misconduct”, under Chapter 7 of the Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulation, 2002 and disciplinary action shall be taken against such doctor under Chapter 8 of the said Regulations.

(12) All hospitals shall publish a charter in Hindi, English and the vernacular language of the State or Union territory at their entrance to the effect that they shall not detain bystander or good Samaritan or ask depositing money from them for the treatment of a victim.

(13) In case a bystander or good Samaritan so desires, the hospital shall provide an acknowledgement to such good Samaritan, confirming that an injured person was brought to the hospital and the time and place of such occurrence and the acknowledgement may be prepared in a standard format by the State Government and disseminated to all hospitals in the State for incentivizing the bystander or good Samaritan as deemed fit by the State Government.

(14) All public and private hospitals shall implement these guidelines immediately and in case of noncompliance or violation of these guidelines appropriate action shall be taken by the concerned authorities.

(15) A letter containing these guidelines shall be issued by the Central Government and the State Government to all Hospitals and Institutes under their respective jurisdiction, enclosing a Gazette copy of this notification and ensure compliance and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Ministry of Road Transport and Highways shall publish advertisements in all national and one regional newspaper including electronic media informing the general public of these guidelines. 

Good Samaritan law in different states

  • Good Samaritan law in Karnataka

Being one of the top five states to witness most accidents in India, Karnataka was the first to implement the good Samaritan law followed by many other States. In 2016, after the initial assessment of the bill by the Supreme Court, Karnataka approved it following an incident where no one assisted a person who had an accident, because of police harassment. According to the new law, the Karnataka government will extend financial assistance to those who help accident victims. This means that they will not have to make repeated attendances at courts and police stations.

  • Good Samaritan scheme in Delhi

Under this scheme State Government shall provide 2000 Rs incentive to people who help accident victims reach the hospital. The main objective being to reduce the time for the victim to reach the hospital.

  • Good Samaritan scheme in West Bengal.

Under this scheme the government promises an incentive of 1500 Rs to those people who help accident victims reach the hospital while also stated that it is not necessary for the person to give out any information at the hospital.

Global perspective on Good Samaritan law.

The Good Samaritan law came about from a Bible verse. The verse recounts the aid given by a traveler from the area known as Samaria to another traveler of a conflicting religious and ethnic background who had been beaten and robbed by bandits. The Good Samaritan movement as a law first started in Canada and was later adopted in many countries. Good Samaritan laws tend to differ by region, each being crafted according to local interpretations of protection as well the scope of care to be given. Some of the countries that have adopted good Samaritan law include Australia, Canada, China, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Romania, United States and United Kingdom.

Variation of the Good samaritan law

A variation of the Good Samaritan law is the Duty to Rescue. In these circumstances, a person can be held liable for failing to help a victim who could be potentially injured or even die if not rescued. There are several countries in the world who have adopted this strict rule as a tort while India has failed to do so as of yet. Although majority of countries don’t follow this rule of law there are certain exceptions to it.

In case the person fails to help those, who were endangered because of his mistake. This may include personal relations like parents of minor children, employers as well as spouses. The countries following duty to rescue include Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Russia, Serbia and Spain.

Why are we failing and what should we do?

While the law seems promising and the incentives provided are certainly enough to encourage bystander care, the same has not been reflected in the society. A survey on bystander care in India suggested the ignorance of the law at large along with total unawareness of the existence of the law. A national study on the impact of Good Samaritan law showed that 84% of the people were unaware of the existence of the law which indicates the lack of implementation of the law and the unawareness of the guidelines being in force at all.

It was also revealed that 76% of medical professionals reported that no action was taken against professionals who did not comply with the Good Samaritan Law and 59% Good Samaritans reported being detained by police despite the enforcement of the Good Samaritan Law.

With the failure of the Government in addressing the non-compliance of it, there are also indications of a lack of awareness by authorities and the police as well. An integral step to the betterment of the law is to raise awareness of the existence of it. Campaigns conducted by the Government along with rigorous training sessions to align responsibilities among hospitals and police officials Is essential. To civilians, there seems to be no upside to acting the good Samaritan due to the mindset created in the society to leave people to fight for their own problems. The good act is still not appreciated as police officials still continue to harass and demean those who try to help.

Besides the incentive to help someone in a road accident, the law does not do much to ensure that bystanders do help in case of need. The choice is still left largely to the people who often choose to not help the victim even with the prescribed incentives. In countries like USA and Finland, the Good Samaritan law also contains components of ‘Duty to rescue’ which mandates bystanders to help to their maximum capacity. The law in India only talks about the protection given to the bystander but is silent on trying to increase help in case of accidents by obligation.

However, it is worth mentioning that some states have taken the initiative to implement the law. Karnataka has enacted a legislation to give legal protection to Good Samaritans. The Karnataka Good Samaritan and Medical Professional Act 2016 aims to provide protection to Good Samaritans and Medical Professionals from civil and criminal liabilities, by establishing a supportive legal environment and imposing obligations on hospital and clinics. Further, the Act in detail sets out the duties of the Hospitals, establishment of Good Samaritan Fund, facilitation of legal proceedings and appointment of an appropriate authority by the government.

Despite these efforts, the message has not been able to reach the community as majority of the people still choose to ignore the incentives. While preferring to mind their own business, they also fear the possibility of causing extra damage in an effort to help the victim. Thus, the entire essence of the law is lost as the incentives do not change the mindsets of the people.

In a way, a reasonable imposition of a duty to recue is required to obligate bystanders to help. The implementation of this provision is highly debatable in the world on whether moral obligations can be imposed by the law or not. It is also essential to consider the right to life as the prime duty of the State. Proper implementation with reasonable obligation would reasonably eliminate the problem.

While the Good Samaritan law is an important enactment worldwide, the scope and extent of its functioning is still largely unspecified. Although the law has sufficiently explained who a Good Samaritan is, and has incentivized bystanders to help in case of accidents, it does little to protect the right to life of the victim. With the problem of rising road accidents and the lack of EMS services, a country like India is in absolute need of this law. It protects Good Samaritans from civil and criminal liabilities and reduces the time and money spent in the process.

There is an urgent need to implement the law and raise awareness regarding the existence of it. Despite the incentives, due appreciation and the benefits of acting in times of need must be highlighted. Law and strict enforcement of guidelines by the Hospital and Police Officers can enable us to achieve the objective of the amendment. Actions by people can include taking the victim to the nearest hospital, providing immediate medical help, making necessary arrangements during the Golden Hour, adapting rescue measures, encouraging bystanders to help etc.

It is also essential for India to consider the provision of a duty to rescue. Even though such an obligation to help a victim is absent, the moral duty to help others still prevails. Effective legislations and measures taken to reduce the scope of road accidents as well as increase the incidences of the Good Samaritan act is essential to protect people on the road.

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