seinfeldDoes anyone remember the last episode from Seinfeld where Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer end up in jail for failing to help an individual being held up at gunpoint? The arresting police officer cites the town’s “Good Samaritan” law as grounds for the arrest, which purports to impose upon citizens a duty to rescue.

Unlike this fictionalized episode from Seinfeld, laws generally do not impose a duty to rescue.  In fact, with respect to physicians, the Nebraska legislature has enacted legislation to protect physicians and other volunteers from civil liability when rendering care at the scene of an emergency.  According to Neb. Rev. Stat. §25-21,186, “No person who renders emergency care at the scene of an accident or other emergency gratuitously, shall be held liable for any civil damages as a result of any act or omission by such person in rendering the emergency care or as a result of any act or failure to act to provide or arrange for medical treatment or care for the injured person.” 

At common law, physicians stopping to render assistance were afforded protection if their conduct was reasonable.  This common law standard was virtually abrogated with the passage of “Good Samaritan” laws designed to encourage physicians to offer emergency aid.  California was the first state to give physicians immunity from civil liability resulting from acts or omissions in rendering emergency care.  In its original form, the California statute provided that: “[n]o person licensed under this chapter, who in good faith renders emergency care at the scene of the emergency, shall be liable for any civil damages as a result of any acts or omissions by such person in rendering the emergency care.”  Since the enactment of this statute, all states have granted some degree of immunity for emergency care provided by physician samaritans.

In addition to the protection afforded under §25-21, 186, the Nebraska legislature has enacted statutes offering varying degrees of protection to volunteer fire departments and emergency squad personnel rendering emergency first aid (provided that services are rendered in good faith  and are not wanton or willful), and emergency care providers  providing care within the scope of his or her license to individuals deemed to be in immediate danger of injury or loss of life. 

These statutes are intended to encourage physicians and other emergency personnel to stop and render emergency aid without fear of repercussion.  So, the next time someone asks “Is there a doctor in the house?” – you can feel a bit more comfortable stopping to help.