Moments of Crisis
Moments of daring rescue and emergency medical aid are more common than you may think.
Surely, many Bay Staters are familiar with the story of Chuck Conley, the man whose heart stopped on the basketball court at Newton’s Hyde Community Center in 2011. He was saved when a fellow basketball player, Bryan Doo, who also happens to be the Boston Celtics strength and conditioning coach, remembered that the gym was equipped with a defibrillator. Doo used the machine to shock Conley’s heart back to life. Doo saved him.
Or perhaps, you’re more familiar with the rescue of three swimmers last month from an extraordinary riptide at Rexhame Beach in Marshfield. According to Wicked Local Marshfield, one of the rescuers said that the riptide was unlike any he’d ever seen before. It pulled a number of swimmers away from the beach. Rescuers went to the stranded swimmers in kayaks and inflatable devices to bring them again to shore.
Those who intervene when others face danger are called Good Samaritans and our laws are designed to protect them. For example, what would have happened if the basketball player, Doo, had improperly operated the defibrillator and caused damage to his companion? Would he have been liable? What if the Rexhame Beach rescuers had failed to successfully bring the stranded swimmers to shore? Could someone sue them for wrongful death?
Good Samaritan Laws
Let’s take a look at Massachusetts’ Good Samaritan laws. First of all, there is no duty in our state to rescue a person in trouble. The closest our law comes to creating such a duty is the duty to report a crime. So even if you witness a rape or a murder, you aren’t obligated to intervene, only to report it after the fact.
Nonetheless, if you attempt to provide or obtain aid for the crime victim and your intervention results in the injury or death of the victim, you are not liable in a civil suit for damages.
Similarly, if you render emergency care, as long as you do it in good faith, for no compensation, and without “gross negligence or wanton misconduct,” you are fine. What constitutes “gross negligence or wanton misconduct” depends on the circumstances. In the case of the defibrillator, the person administering aid should take care to use the defibrillator according to the instructions and not in a way that might clearly be dangerous.
Keep in mind that if the rescued individual offers you a token of gratitude, a court may find that you accepted compensation, and thereby have become liable for any damages resulting from your emergency aid.