How Can Colorado’s Good Samaritan Laws Affect Your Personal Injury Case?
When you sustain an injury because of someone else’s actions, you naturally wonder what your options are to recover for your injuries.
Colorado’s personal injury laws allow victims to recover from responsible parties in a wide variety of circumstances. However, it’s important to understand Colorado’s Good Samaritan laws and how they might pertain to your case.
What is Good Samaritan Law?
A “Good Samaritan” law is so named after the Biblical parable of the Good Samaritan, in which a man is assaulted and robbed by bandits and left for dead on the side of the road. After being passed by a priest and a Levite who chose to render no aid, a Samaritan (called such because he was from Samaria) helped the injured man.
In the legal world, a Good Samaritan is a person who renders aid to an injured person outside of the course of their employment and without expectation of receiving compensation or a reward.
The purpose of the Good Samaritan Law is to encourage people to offer aid in emergency situations. That is, Colorado lawmakers don’t want people to hesitate to offer assistance when it’s needed because they’re worried about liability.
Colorado’s Good Samaritan laws are recorded in Colorado statute 13-21-108.
Often, there are individuals on the scene of an emergency long before emergency workers arrive. The goal of the Good Samaritan Act is to allow those individuals to render aid without having to worry about getting sued for their actions.
For the law to apply, the aid must have occurred at the scene of an emergency or accident.
According to Colorado law, individuals who are specifically protected when rendering aid as a Good Samaritan include:
- Licensed physicians and surgeons
- Volunteer members of rescue units
- Volunteer members of ski patrol or ski area rescue units
- An employer when an employee who is protected from liability renders aid in the course of his or her job
- Any other person who renders aid in good faith
Colorado 911 Good Samaritan Law
In addition, Colorado has a separate Good Samaritan Law that applies to people who call 911 in emergency situations. The 911 Good Samaritan Law, which was signed into law by then-Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2012, says:
The 911 Good Samaritan Law states that a person is immune from criminal prosecution for an offense when the person reports, in good faith, an emergency drug or alcohol overdose even to a law enforcement officer, to the 911 system, or to a medical provider. This same immunity applies to persons who remain at the scene of the event until a law enforcement officer or an emergency medical responder arrives, or if the person remains at the facilities of the medical provider until a law enforcement officer, emergency medical responder, or medical provider arrives. The immunity described above also extends to the person who suffered the emergency drug or alcohol overdose event.
Essentially, this law protects Colorado citizens from criminal prosecution if they call 911 during an emergency, even if the circumstances involve laws being broken. For example, if a person who is partaking in illegal drugs with someone who is having an overdose, they can call the police without fear of arrest and prosecution for a drug-related crime. This law also protects the person who is overdosing from criminal prosecution.
When Does Good Samaritan Law Apply?
Colorado’s Good Samaritan laws say that a person at the scene of an emergency may render medical aid without personal injury liability for their actions. So even if a person renders aid in a way that is negligent, the victim or their family cannot bring a case against the person for the results of their negligent behavior.
Let’s walk through a real-life example:
In September 2020, Arturo Jauregui was driving home from work southbound on I-25 near Exit 153 in North Colorado Springs when he saw a truck ahead of him start to spin out and flip over. Jauregui told 11 News that he pulled over to help. When he did, he saw that the driver was still in the vehicle, apparently locked in by the seat belt.
Jauregui ran to his car and grabbed a razor blade, then ran back and cut the belt holding the driver in the vehicle. During this time, the car was beginning to smoke, so Jauregui and the other good Samaritans rushed to pull the man free even though they felt like they were hurting the man more.
Seconds after they pulled the driver free, the car burst into flames. The brave actions of Jauregui and the other helpers saved a man’s life.
But what if the driver was injured while being pulled free from the car and decided to sue the good Samaritans?
In this case, Jauregui and the other people who stopped to render aid would be protected by Colorado’s Good Samaritan Act since they acted in “good faith” to render emergency aid for no other reason than to help someone in need.
Colorado Good Samaritan Law and Naloxone
As opioid abuse continues to be an epidemic problem in the U.S., it has become more common for everyday folks to carry medication that effectively reverses an opioid overdose. One such life-saving medication is naloxone (commonly known by its brand name, Narcan), which is a safe and effective medicine that blocks the effects of an opioid overdose.
Though proven to be a safe medication, legal questions commonly arise regarding whether or not a person can be held liable for a negative reaction due to administering naloxone to someone experiencing an opioid overdose.
Colorado statute §18-1-712 specifically addresses this situation and protects third-parties from liability:
This law allows for a person other than a health care provider or health care facility who acts in good faith to administer an opiate antagonist to another person whom the person believes to be suffering an opiate-related drug overdose. The individual who administers naloxone shall be immune from criminal prosecution for such an act.
Legal Exceptions for Good Samaritan Liability
Although the law generally prevents personal injury lawsuits against individuals offering emergency aid, there are a few exceptions worth noting.
When a person renders aid that is considered “grossly negligent” or even willfully harmful, a person can still bring a civil action against the aid provider.
The purpose of this exception is to make sure that people who choose to provide aid take reasonable care to ensure that their efforts do not make the situation worse.
Basically, a person should be careful not to cause additional harm either purposefully or recklessly. If they do, the victim can bring a case against them for their damages despite Good Samaritan Law.
Compensated Healthcare Professionals
Another important exception in the law involves health-care professionals that are paid to arrive on the scene and help. That is, if an EMT or other health care professional arrives on scene to provide aid and they expect compensation for their aid, the victim can sue them if they provide negligent care.
For example, a Limon, Colorado family sued the city for wrongful death when a man died while in transit between 2 hospitals because the ambulance he was riding in broke down. When determining the cause of the man’s death, the ambulance breakdown is mentioned in the autopsy report. His condition was stable up until the delay in medical care.
In this case, the ambulance driver—and more specifically, their employer the city—is not protected under Colorado’s Good Samaritan Law since they were providing a service for payment. In fact, the ambulance transport company still sent a bill to the family for $3,000 for the transport of their loved one, despite the fact that he ultimately died due to a vehicle malfunction.
Suing for Underlying Negligence That Causes Severe Injury
While Colorado law prevents people from suing any passersby who renders aid in an emergency, victims can still bring a case against any person who negligently causes their underlying injuries.
For example, Caden fails to stop at a stop sign. As a result, Caden collides with Jaden, causing Jaden catastrophic injuries.
A passerby, Aiden, sees the accident occur. Aiden stops to render emergency aid to Jaden. Aiden applies an article of clothing to a wound in order to slow bleeding, but doesn’t apply enough pressure and Jaden bleeds more severely than he might have otherwise. Although Jaden fully recovers, his recovery takes longer and he has more complications than it might have had if Aiden’s emergency aid hadn’t been negligent.
In this scenario, Good Samaritan law prevents Jaden from bringing a case against Aiden for negligent aid. However, Aiden’s actions don’t prevent Jaden from bringing a case against Caden for the damages that resulted from Caden’s failure to stop at the stop sign.