California’s good samaritan law is codified in Health and Safety Code 1799.102. The law protects a person from civil liability that arises out of providing emergency medical or non-medical care at the scene of an emergency.
HS 1799.102 states that “(a) No person who in good faith, and not for compensation, renders emergency medical or nonmedical care at the scene of an emergency shall be liable for any civil damages resulting from any act or omission. The scene of an emergency shall not include emergency departments and other places where medical care is usually offered. This subdivision applies only to the medical, law enforcement, and emergency personnel specified in this chapter.”
Examples of good Samaritan related acts include:
- seeing a car crash into a tree while walking home from work and helping the injured driver out of the car
- providing “light” medical care to a person after watching him fall off a stadium seat at a softball game
- dragging a drowning swimmer out of a lake and performing CPR
Please note that civil damages under this law include both:
The protection against civil liability extended under the GSL does not include instances of gross negligence and willful or wanton misconduct.
Please note that HSC 1799.102 originally only applied to “medical care,” but with the passage of Assembly Bill 83 in 2009, it now applies to “nonmedical care” as well.
Also note that the GSL is silent on criminal liability, which means a “good Samaritan” could technically face criminal charges if he or she commits a crime in the provision of emergency care. Charges could include:
In contrast, criminal liability is extended (in some situations) to persons in possession of drugs, or using drugs, if they seek medical help if another person is experiencing a drug-related overdose.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. What is California’s good Samaritan law?
- 2. What are civil damages?
- 3. What about gross negligence and willful misconduct?
- 4. How did Assembly Bill 83 change the law?
- 5. Does HSC 1799.102 protect against criminal liability?
- 6. What about helping someone in a drug overdose case?
1. What is California’s good Samaritan law?
Under HSC 1799.102, the GSL states that a person cannot be liable for any civil damages that result from his or her providing of emergency care, if:
- the person acted in good faith, and not for compensation,
- he or she provided either medical or nonmedical care, and
- the care was provided at the scene of an emergency.1
Note that “the scene of an emergency” does not include emergency departments and other places where medical care is usually provided.2
The GSL is designed to protect “good Samaritans” that help at the scene of an accident or emergency, but perhaps are not as qualified in giving care as trained medical personnel. The law also encourages people and bystanders to volunteer in emergency situations, even without compensation.3
2. What are civil damages?
Civil damages, in the context of a civil lawsuit, refer to the damages (or lump of money) a plaintiff may recover for any injuries incurred.
These damages include both:
- compensatory damages, and
- punitive damages.
In California, compensatory damages for an accident or injury fall into two basic categories:
- “economic” damages, such as medical bills, property damage and lost wages, and
- “non-economic” damages, such as pain and suffering.
California Civil Code § 3294 permits a plaintiff to be awarded “punitive” damages in a personal injury case.
Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are based not on the plaintiff’s losses, but on:
- the reprehensibility of the defendant’s conduct, and
- the defendant’s ability to pay.
They are granted to punish a defendant in cases of intentional harm or extreme recklessness.
When granted, punitive damages are in addition to amounts awarded as compensatory damages.
3. What about gross negligence and willful misconduct?
The protection extended under the GSL does not include instances of gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.
HSC 1799.102(b)(2) specifically states that protection from civil liability does not apply when damages result from:
“an act or omission constituting gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.”4
California courts generally define “gross negligence” as:
- a lack of any care, or
- an extreme departure from what a reasonably careful person would do in the same situation to prevent harm to oneself or to others.5
In contrast, willful or wanton misconduct is an aggravated form of negligence. It refers to conduct that is committed with:
- intentional or reckless disregard for the safety of others, or
- an intentional disregard of a duty necessary to the safety of another’s property.6
4. How did Assembly Bill 83 change the law?
Prior to Assembly Bill 83, the GSL only protected a person from civil liability if he or she rendered medical care” at the scene of an emergency. AB 83, passed into law in 2009, changed this by protecting both “medical and nonmedical care.”
The bill came after an actual good Samaritan case, in which a witness of a car accident pulled a person from a car that was likely to catch on fire. The person pulled from the auto sustained injuries and later sued the “good Samaritan.”
In the suit, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiff because the law did not include “nonmedical care.” Given the sense of unfairness within this outcome – that good Samaritans can be liable for helping accident victims – the GSL law was amended to its current form.
5. Does HSC 1799.102 protect against criminal liability?
Good Samaritan California law is silent on criminal liability. This means that a person could technically face criminal charges if he or she commits a crime in the commission of emergency care.
Consider, for example, a person rescues a driver from a car accident. In the course of the rescue, the “good Samaritan” injures the driver’s leg while dragging him from the car. The rescuer stabilizes the driver with first aid and calls 9-1-1. He then takes the driver’s wallet and runs off.
Under Health and Safety Code 1799.102, the driver could not sue the rescuer for his leg injuries. However, authorities could still arrest the rescuer for theft.
6. What about helping someone in a drug overdose case?
Under California Health and Safety Code 11376.5, a person will not be charged with drug possession or use crimes if that person:
- acts in good faith, and
- seeks medical assistance/ emergency medical services for another person experiencing a drug-related overdose.7
This law was designed to encourage a witness of a drug-related overdose to:
- call 9-1-1, or
- seek emergency help in a timely manner to save the life of the overdose victim.
According to the California Department of Public Health, about 15,725 Californians died from drug overdoses between 2008 to 2012. By comparison, about 14,860 Californians died in traffic incidents during that same period.
Note that HSC 11376.5 does not protect a person from the following crimes:
In Nevada? See our article about Nevada Good Samaritan Laws.