Minnesota’s Good Samaritan Law

From the Bench

Greg Galler
District Court Judge

Do you remember the Biblical parable of the Good Samaritan? A victimized traveler laying on the side of the road is cared for by a passing man from Samaria. Feeling a personal moral obligation to love his neighbor as himself, the Samaritan tended to the victim’s wounds and then took him to an inn where he personally paid for his care and keep.

Minnesota has a law entitled the “Good Samaritan Law.” It places a legal duty on people to provide reasonable assistance to others that have been exposed to or are in peril of grave physical harm. Reasonable assistance could mean simply attempting to get help from law enforcement or medical personnel. Also, no attempt to help is required if that would subject the person, or anyone else, to their own peril or danger.   

Why does Minnesota have such a law? One Court of Appeals case stated, “The purpose of the Good Samaritan law is to encourage non-emergency personnel to help those in peril.”   Historically, American law placed no obligation (whether legal or moral) on anyone to voluntarily help someone else.  Now, all 50 states have some version of a Good Samaritan law.

To further encourage people to help others, the law protects lay-people from civil liability for negligence committed while voluntarily providing emergency care. This immunity exists both at the scene of the emergency and while transporting someone to a location where professional care can be rendered. While the law protects someone who negligently acts in good faith, it does not protect a person who acts in a willful & wanton or reckless manner.

What qualifies as an emergency? Our law has defined an emergency to be any event or combination of circumstances which calls for immediate action, remedy, pressing necessity, or exigency where someone has been exposed to or suffered grave physical harm. However, you are not required to be able to diagnose a situation like a triage doctor. Liability protection is provided if the situation is one in which a reasonable person believes in good faith that emergency help is needed right away. 

An emergency could occur virtually anywhere — a roadside accident, a concert or sporting event, or at a public shopping venue. Also, the law only applies to emergencies where professional help is not available to deal with it. If professional assistance is already available, there is no duty to stop and render aid.

Finally, it must be noted that the penalty for failure to provide assistance is being given a ticket for a petty misdemeanor. Petty misdemeanors carry a maximum fine of $300 and are not considered to be crimes.

The Biblical parable of the Good Samaritan describes a person’s individual moral obligation to render aid. Minnesota’s law imposes only a legal obligation to render aid but limits that obligation by protecting us from civil liability and it excuses us entirely if we would be subject to our own personal peril.

My thanks to a radio listener of these columns for suggesting this topic.

Judge Galler is chambered in Washington County.  If you have a general question about the law or courts for Judge Galler, send your question to the editor of this newspaper. Learn more about Judge Galler, or listen to a podcast of his columns at www.judgegreggaller.com.



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