The Karnataka government’s recent decision to frame a Good Samaritan law (GSL) has come not a day too soon, and the move should be a boost to concerted efforts at changing the public’s tendency to turn away from road accident victims. In today’s lawsuit-riddled society, members are often reluctant to try and save someone’s life in the event of an accident because they are afraid of being sued, and the interim delay in emergency care could mean the difference between life and death of a victim.
In October 2014, the Supreme Court (SC) directed the Union government to formulate guidelines for the protection of “Good Samaritans”, or helpful bystanders. A lethal blend of poor law enforcement and lack of emergency medical care makes India the world’s road death capital. “About 150,000 people get killed every year and more than three times as many are injured in road accidents”, says a World Health Organisation report. A study by the Indian Journal of Surgery, 2012 says that “80 pc of road accident victims in India do not receive emergency medical care within the ‘golden hour’. According to The Law Commission of India, “about 50 pc of those victims can be rescued if they receive timely medical attention including assistance from the bystanders and passersby.” An astounding 70,000 lives can be saved.
Many countries have enacted national legislation aimed at protecting the good Samaritans during medical emergency. In fact, Australia, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain have criminal penalties for failing to come to the aid of another person. Israeli law requires bystanders to help, and good Samaritans are even compensated.
The core of the SC guidelines is that no bystander rushing to the rescue of an accident victim be subject to civil/criminal liability. Any sharing of personal information or offer to be a witness ought to be voluntary, adding that “good Samaritans must be treated with respect and be assured that they face no hassle”.
While police are invariably untrained to provide any medical aid, bystanders and passers-by are obvious alternate choice. All the hospitals must be directed not to detain the bystander or demand any payment or admission costs, unless the victim is related to the good Samaritan, and doctors who do not respond should be liable for professional misconduct and disciplinary action.
Create a system to recognise those Samaritans. State governments may institute a system of reward and compensation to encourage more bystanders to be Good Samaritans, and initiate deterrent and timely action against officials or police personnel violating the standard operating procedures.
Even in the infamous Nirbhaya case, when the male friend along with the medical student who was brutally gang-raped in Delhi were thrown off the bus on to the street, not a single passerby responded to their plight and simply went their way. Good Samaritan laws are important to society because anyone could find themselves in victim’s situation one day and may need assistance from strangers.
The “good Samaritan” should definitely be absolved of civil liability for any harm inflicted while engaging in reasonable efforts to assist a victim, much as medical professionals would today. All other state governments should follow the Karnataka example, if they have not done so. It’s also up to the individual to decide in the moment what it means to be a fellow human.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)