Imagine you’re traveling to work one morning and are suddenly involved in a traffic accident. You’re conscious, but you need medical attention. While EMS is on the way to the scene of the accident, a bystander removes you from your vehicle, and in the process, your head strikes the car frame. You suffer a concussion.
This good Samaritan meant well, but they caused an injury while they were trying to help you. While it’s true you may not have suffered a concussion if they had not “interfered,” under Texas good Samaritan laws, they likely cannot be held financially liable for your additional injuries. Read on for a deeper explanation!
What Is the Texas Good Samaritan Law?
Under Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 74.15, well-intentioned individuals acting in good faith are free from civil damages. Specifically, the statute reads: “A person who in good faith administers emergency care at the scene of an emergency or in a hospital is not liable in civil damages for an act performed during the emergency unless the act is willfully or wantonly negligent.” Intentions matter. In our example above, the bottom line is that the person was acting in good faith and displaying concern for your safety.
What Are Good Samaritan Disputes?
Several types of disputes can arise from a good Samaritan rendering aid.
Some of the more common scenarios include:
- A tow truck driver damages your car at the scene of the accident – The tow truck driver can be held accountable because they were at the scene of the accident as a means of getting business. This holds true regardless of whether they were called to the scene by you, by law enforcement, or just happened upon the scene.
- Your vehicle is on fire and an untrained bystander helps you escape, but breaks your leg in the process – In this urgent situation, the bystander cannot be held responsible for your broken leg. They were acting in good faith, they acted reasonably, and they may have even prevented a more serious injury.
- You get a cramp while swimming at the gym and wind up underwater nearly drowning. A doctor who is also at the gym helps you out of the pool and performs CPR. In the process, they break two ribs and your lung is punctured – Most likely, this doctor can be held liable for your additional injuries since they are professionally trained to deal with patients in distress. At a minimum, there is an expectation a physician would be trained to give CPR properly without causing additional harm to the patient. While the doctor had no ill intention, they still failed to perform properly.
Are There Exceptions to the Good Samaritan Law in Texas?
Nearly all laws have exceptions, and sometimes there are gray areas that can cause problems when you are filing an accident claim. However, there are very specific exceptions to Texas good Samaritan laws. These include:
- A person who causes injury due to negligence
- Someone who asks for money before helping
- Someone at the scene soliciting business
- Someone who has a health care practice (like an admitting or treating physician)
Any time you are in an accident and a bystander who rendered aid caused you to suffer an additional injury, you should speak with a car accident attorney who has a thorough understanding of Texas good Samaritan statutes.
At-Fault Drivers and Good Samaritan Acts
Generally, there is an operator who is considered at fault for an accident. In some cases, the person responsible for the accident suffers less serious injuries than the passengers involved in the other vehicle. We are often asked if the person who caused the accident in the first place can also be held responsible for additional injuries caused by attempting to render aid to a victim. The answer is yes.
The reason this is different from most good Samaritan situations is because the driver was already at fault for the accident. If they caused further harm—such as a concussion, broken arm, or dislocated joint from extracting the injured driver from their vehicle—they can be held liable for the injuries which result from such extraction.
The injury claim you initially file would be for injuries suffered during an accident or as a direct result of the accident. However, any injuries you suffered because the at-fault driver attempted to render aid are not a direct result of the accident. Therefore you may have a separate case and the person may be held civilly liable for the additional injuries caused while rendering aid.
When Good Samaritan Laws Do Not Protect People Rendering Aid
While the good Samaritan laws are designed to protect a person who is rendering aid, such aid must have the ultimate goal of protecting the health, safety, or life of the person who is receiving the aid. However, if the Samaritan is not acting in good faith, or if their actions are grossly negligent, they can still be held civilly liable for their actions.
Before determining that a Samaritan caused harm for which you should hold them accountable, you must ask:
- Were the actions reasonable? If in the process of rendering aid the good Samaritan does not act reasonably, they may be held civilly liable. An example of this would be extracting an unconscious person from a vehicle and leaving them lying in the roadway where they could potentially be struck by another vehicle. While the act of removing them from the car is reasonable, a judge or jury may not deem their leaving an unconscious victim in the roadway as reasonable.
- Was the action negligent? In some cases, a person coming to the scene of an accident as a good Samaritan has the best of intentions but makes a negligent decision. For example, what if the person they extract from the vehicle is clearly in pain and in the moment, the Samaritan extracts a painkiller from their pocket—one legally obtained and prescribed to them—and administers it to the victim? Turns out the victim is allergic to that specific medication, has an immediate reaction, and then loses their life. This action is negligent and therefore the Samaritan would not be protected under the Texas Good Samaritan laws.
- Was the action willful or wanton conduct? “Wanton conduct” is a term that will generally be applied in cases where a medical professional was rendering aid at the scene of an accident, although it could also apply to a layperson. An example would be if a person who is administering CPR suddenly stops, resulting in the death of the victim. In these cases, the wanton or willful conduct is stopping CPR simply because the person rendering the aid is no longer interested. (In cases where it becomes clear it is not working, or the person rendering CPR is exhausted, the conduct would not be considered willful or wanton.)
If you were a victim of an accident and there was intervention at the scene by a person who was not an EMS or law enforcement officer, you may have a cause of action despite good Samaritan laws in Texas.
Getting Help After an Accident
Following any type of roadway accident, it’s important to protect yourself and protect your family. Regardless of whether you are a victim or a survivor who lost a loved one, it is important for you to understand your rights and make sure you know your legal options.
If the accident rendered a victim incapacitated and a “good Samaritan” bystander was involved in any action which resulted in additional harm or injuries, you should also disclose this to your lawyer. Your attorney can help you determine if their actions are protected under Texas good Samaritan laws or if they are excluded due to one of the exceptions.
Why It Matters if You Speak with a Lawyer After an Accident
Sometimes, after a car accident, a victim believes they should simply file an accident claim and wait for the settlement information to be sent to them. Too often, victims settle for the first offer they get from a car accident claim. Let’s face it, following a serious car accident, you’re probably out of work, tapping into your savings, and constantly concerned about your family’s financial future. It’s all too tempting to accept the first offer an insurer makes.
However, this would be a mistake. Insurance claims are complicated. Following a car accident you are liable to hear from multiple insurance adjusters, one handling your medical claim and one handling the claim for the damage to your vehicle.
Even when the insurance company is claiming to be a good neighbor, they are not going to make a great offer to you initially (if they make an offer at all!)
In most cases, their tactics go something like this:
- Assign your claim to a team who is going to do their level best to pay you as little as possible
- Attempt to convince you a recorded statement is “standard” (it is not, and you are under no obligation to provide such a statement)
- Request access to all of your medical records in an attempt to prove your injuries were pre-existing
- Make a low-ball offer in hopes you will accept it because of mounting expenses and loss of income
- Attempt to convince you that an attorney is not necessary (they know if you know your rights, you will be less likely to fall for their tactics!)
Keep in mind, every insurance company uses these methods of handling every claim. The hope is you will not know what legal rights you have, and you will accept a quick settlement. Language buried in the fine print of the settlement will eliminate all additional risk for the insurer, so they get off the hook regardless of how much it costs you to recover from your injuries.
Experience in Texas Personal Injury Law Matters
While past success with personal injury cases does not mean a lawyer will get every client a large settlement, experience still matters. Insurance companies are more likely to deal in good faith with an attorney who knows how to spot the tactics they use to minimize a claim. An attorney can also deal with complex cases which involve multiple insurance companies—which would be the case if a good Samaritan caused additional injuries or damage to your vehicle.
Under Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code section 16.003 accident victims who suffered an injury have up to two years to file a lawsuit. Wrongful death lawsuits must also be filed within two years, but the time frame begins at the time of death, which could be vastly different from the date of the accident.
While two years may seem like a long time, you and your lawyer will need to go through several steps before filing a lawsuit, including but not limited, to:
- Obtaining accident reports
- Getting witness statements
- Getting experts to discuss the extent of your injuries
- Reconstruction of the accident
- Gathering evidence
Don’t miss out on the compensation you are entitled to. When a good Samaritan is involved and their liability is in question, discuss their role in your injuries with a personal injury lawyer.