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I am a qualified first-aider in the UK and as such would automatically stop to give aid to any accidents and emergencies I saw. I was watching a US show on the TV the other night where someone was arrested for giving First Aid because they were not licensed correctly.

So my questions are: Is this correct? If so, should I not do anything at an accident scene or is there guidance as to what is acceptable? I tend to travel in the US and Canada so that is mainly where I am asking advice on, but would be interested in other countries as well.

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    Cynical and stereotypical answer: suing comes more natural than breathing to some Americans, don't risk it. – Lilienthal Aug 28 '15 at 11:39
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    TV show fiction, or TV show based on fact? – Joe Aug 28 '15 at 15:00
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    I was told by a union electrician that in the U.S., they are required to know CPR, but are not allowed to give it to their coworkers for legal reasons. – Evorlor Aug 28 '15 at 16:40
  • Your risk of having to do any first aid by chance is pretty low anyway. I'm a qualified EMT and I average about one off duty render aid every 3 years, with only half of those being serious cases. – user16259 Jan 6 '18 at 19:39
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The advice given to me in my paramedic course, and the advice I give my students is along the lines of:

  • Anyone can sue you for anything at any time, for any reason. (They won't necessarily be successful.)

  • If you act in the best interests of the patient, acting as a reasonable and prudent person, you'll most likely be fine. A lot of people that are sued for rendering aid are sued because they try to play doctor (see below), for failing to act as a reasonable and prudent person would, or for negligence (see below).

If you're providing basic first aid within your scope of training (or doing common-sense things like controlling bleeding, despite not being trained), you'll likely be fine.

Cases of gross negligence and outright malice aside, the chances are extremely slim that anything will happen. First, we (the responders) don't typically collect any information about bystanders (unless you're a witness to a crime or something).

Secondly, you are not a likely target for lawyers. It's more tactically advantageous to accept a settlement from the hospital system or go after the physicians than it is to try and extract a couple bucks from some poor guy that was just trying to help.

CPR

CPR and AED use have a special status in a way, in the 2000 Federal Cardiac Arrest Survival Act. See: Can You Be Sued for Performing CPR?

Specific Concerns The legal issues we commonly discuss in first aid class boil down to the following:

Five elements are required to establish a prima facie case of negligence:

  • the existence of a legal duty to exercise reasonable care;

  • a failure to exercise reasonable care;

  • cause in fact of physical harm by the negligent conduct;

  • physical harm in the form of actual damages; and

  • proximate cause, a showing that the harm is within the scope of liability.

(emphasis mine)

See also:

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Good Samaritan laws vary from state to state in the USA (all 50 states have one). Most states provide some level of protection from liability to trained medical personal, doctors, nurses, first responders, etc. Whether your UK training / licensing would qualify would depend on the wording of that state's law.

Some states provide even broader protections that cover everyday citizens as well.

Yes there are some wankers who sue everyone, including those that save their lives. But I think the overwhelming majority (like in the 99.999% realm) of US citizens are appreciative of folks who come to their aid in an emergency.

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    You should define "Good Samaritan laws" or provide a link to the Wikipedia page, since it's a concept that does not exist in all countries and may be unfamiliar to some readers. – Thunderforge Aug 28 '15 at 17:02
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    Here's a summary of Good Samaritan Laws per state – Johnny Aug 28 '15 at 19:47
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    It's still a negative freeroll though... And the actual number is surely much lower than 99.999%. – Spork Aug 31 '15 at 9:47
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    Whilst I disagree with the 99.99% (the US is full of nuts like Scientology, at least some have some interesting views on medical intervention), and it is true that the Good Samaritan Laws codifies the protection of First Aiders. The best place to look is legal precedence, since the USA is a common law country. There are scant cases where a First Aider has been successfully taken to court let alone sued, precisely because of how dangerous a precedence it would set. – Aron Aug 31 '15 at 10:03
  • In the USA a lot of the 99.999% who are appreciative of the help are going to sue and are even more appreciative if they make some money out of it. – gnasher729 Jan 6 '18 at 21:19
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You can get arrested for any kind of physical behaviour between a fellow person, all it takes is a mistaken thought, a sensitive victim and a sheer amount of bad luck.

Can it happen? Yes

Will it happen? Maybe (Probably not)

A lot of First aid is physical and not the soft kind of physical. It's an open ended book in which if you did somehow piss off that guy you just saved the life of and he holds a good grasp of law (or holds money), he can essentially use that against you.

Ethical principles are kind of loose when it comes to intention. You could have had the intention of saving that poor old ladies' life (and you did), but you broke her frail ribs in the process so she wants to sue you. That can go wrong fast, but that's the fundamentals of first aid, you have to act.

If so, should I not do anything at an accident scene or is there guidance as to what is acceptable?

When I was taught first aid, I was taught that it's place in the world is required and you should do it, but you have to learn that there are definitely negatives available for interpretation... Americans are very connected to their freedom and self preservation, but I think you should act the same way as you would in your home city.

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    I recently took a CPR class in the US and we were advised by the instructor to ask permission before touching the victim. If the victim is non-responsive or a child, make a quick attempt to locate someone who could grant such permission (eg. ask an adult nearby "are you with him/her? I'm going to administer CPR - is that OK?"). Seems kind of sad that this is necessary in this country - I don't remember being warned about this when I learned CPR in Canada years ago... – Kryten Aug 28 '15 at 13:37
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    Yeah I got taught the same. But in the end you're expected to do CPR if no negative response is given. – insidesin Aug 28 '15 at 13:55
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    @Kryten AFAIK, you should never, ever do CPR on someone with their permission, because you don't do it on conscious people. – cpast Aug 29 '15 at 6:08
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    I've heard all the rhetoric about people not stopping and helping, but my experience has been that people will stop and help a stranger, especially when their help is clearly needed. I've been on both the giving and receiving time several times in my life (only first aid specific a couple of times). The people being helped have always appreciated the help, even if it wasn't exactly what they were hoping for. All my experience is in America. And asking permission before physically manhandling a stranger is so common sense it shouldn't need stating in a civilized country. – Karen Aug 31 '15 at 13:28
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In Canada, we are trained to do many skills in basic first aid, and we can do them as long as we have consent or implied consent (i.e. unconscious person). The Good Samaritan Act in Canada allows us to do whatever our skills have taught us to do, and we cannot be sued for it.

Having said that, I also have not seen anyone get sued for performing First Aid, based on what they were taught. I teach 9-12 year olds basic first aid (St John's Ambulance Emergency level), but I don't certify them. I have had two cadets, on two separate occasions, perform First Aid as the first people at the scene of a motor vehicle accident. They did what they were taught, and were thanked for it, and even got a medal for it from our organization, with a card and letter from the people they helped.

So, do what you are trained to do, but if you need help, ask for it! We also have a rule that the more-qualified first aider be able to take over as needed.

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Conversely, if you are trained and have the ability to potentially save a person’s life and you do not act, someone may be able to sue you anyway. I knew of a trained counselor that was sharing a residence with someone else. The roommate killed himself and the parents sued the counselor for not seeing the signs and acting by using his own skills, or report his suspicions to another mental health professional. Personally, I have been first-aid, HAZWOPR, and CPR trained. When I saw the aftermath of someone on a motorcycle lying on the pavement having been hit by a car, I instinctively acted. I don’t know if I could stop myself from coming to someone aid even if I did remember that I could get sued.

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    Note that if you've been trained by the red cross, and followed their training to the best of your ability, part of the certification is a promise that they'll help defend your should someone sue. (At least in the US.) They understand that without that promise many would be reluctant to get involved. In addition to good samaritan laws, look up the rules on implied consent -- if the patient refuses to be helped, you have to respect that request -- until they're unconscious/unresponsive, at which point the law assumes that they would concede that maybe they need help after all. – keshlam Aug 28 '15 at 17:45
  • St John's Training in the UK also includes the same sort of insurance. I will check if it covers you whilst abroad - I had not thought about that. – Magpie13 Sep 2 '15 at 12:51
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In Germany you are obliged to help and will be prosecuted if you do not. When giving first aid you are insured against being sued for breaking something, even if the helpee dies, you did your best. Every car driver has to do the first aid course and have the kit in the car. You are also insured against e.g. getting blood on your coat and having to get it cleaned. That's civilisation.

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    Flagging as not an answer because the question clearly asks about the situation in the USA. – Wrzlprmft Aug 31 '15 at 10:35
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    @Wrzlprmft: Don't. The OP specifically mentioned that, no matter what the title says, s/he "would be interested in other countries as well." – Gábor Aug 31 '15 at 16:29
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    Yes I did ask about other countries and I think the First aid course being included for Driving is very sensible. I have not got to Germany yet but may well do in the near future so it is good to know. – Magpie13 Sep 2 '15 at 12:49
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First, there are good samaritan laws that protect you if acting in good faith to provide assistance. As mentioned these vary state to state, but if you act within the scope of first aid they should protect you. However as also mentioned for someone who is conscious you must obtain consent. Note, I am not a lawyer, but a former paramedic. Essentially ask yourself how critical the situation is, and use good judgement.

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To precise a previous answer: In Germany you are obliged to help and MAY be prosecuted if you don't. Though, you are not obliged to put yourself in danger (e.g. passing traffic, electrocution, poisoning by chemicals, falling objects - depending on the circumstances). The minimum help would be to call 112. If you have a first aid training and can help without risking your life and health you should do so. You cannot be sued or prosecuted if acting in your best knowledge and intention. Further, you are not obliged to help if you are in charge of other peoples safety and wellbeing. This would be the case, as one example, if you are a teacher with a group of kids. Same, if you are there with a person in wheelchair or in other ways not able to help him/herself. Your first priority (legally) then would be to bring the kids/this person into safety. You should not and must not leave them to help others.

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    The question is specifically about the US, not Germany. – lambshaanxy Jan 6 '18 at 21:10
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    @jpatokal The last phrase of the question is "but would be interested in other countries as well". – badjohn Jan 6 '18 at 23:29

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