The Good Samaritan Law (hereinafter referred to as GSL) can be said to have evolved from the biblical story in Luke 10:25-37 where Jesus Christ narrated a parable of which a traveler was robbed of his possessions, wounded and left for dead. A man passed and rendered no help. Another came and did the same. The third man passed, stopped and provided help to the wounded soul to the best of his ability. This moralistic notion has so long been codified as law in the Western World.
Legally, the term “Good Samaritan” refers to someone who renders aid in an emergency to another in an injured state on a voluntary basis. He must take reasonably care in administering the help lest he be sued for negligence in cases where his help goes awry. In some states, a person is not obligated to volunteer help. This principle runs in the veins of Common Law where a duty is not imposed on a bystander to help a person in need and equally applied to medical practitioners in so far as the patient is not in a professional relationship with the doctor.
See the cases of Hudrey v Edingfield (1901) NE 1058, Childers v Frye (1931) 158 SE 774, Findlay v Board of Supervisors of the County of Mohave (1951) 230 P2d 526, Agnew v Parkes (1959) 343 P2d 118 and Hister v Randolf (1986) 17 P2d 174. But in Lowns & Anor v Woods & Ors (1996), Aust.Torts Reports, the above principle was reversed. In that case, an 11 year old boy, Patrick Woods was suffering from an epileptic seizure. The mother immediately called his brother Harry to call an ambulance and his 14 year old sister to call a doctor who was nearby. On arriving Dr. Lowns Surgery, she asked Dr. Lowns to come to her brother’s aid. The doctor asked that Patrick be brought to him of which she replied that it could not be done. In the end, the doctor refused to follow the girl.
It was held by the majority at the Court of Appeal that both Patrick Woods and the father who had claimed damages for nervous shock were entitled to recover $3 million against Dr.Lowns on the premise that there was a relationship of proximity notwithstanding lack of professional relationship between Dr. Lowns and Patrick Woods. It must be borne in mind that the above is only applicable to states who have accepted to be governed by this principle. This is to say that where a statute provides otherwise, that statute remains valid.
Furthermore, it is instructive to note that GSL differs from state to state. As already stated above, while some states do not impose a bystander to offer help to persons in need, others do the reverse.
For instance, the State of Vermont orders citizens to assist anyone in need. If he ceases to do so, he’ll be fined. In the same vein, sections 6-5-332 of the Code of Alabama in the United States of America restricts protection to trained persons or employees of the public education system unless the patient is suffering from a cardiac arrest. In other words, a lay person cannot help one who is suffering from cardiac arrest. In Oklahoma, the Good Samaritan Act only protects ordinary persons if the care provided is related to CPR or to control bleeding. Also, the Hawaii Good Samaritan Act provides to the effect that “any person who in good faith renders emergency care without remuneration or expectation of remuneration, at the scene of an accident or emergency shall not be liable for any civil damages resulting from the person’s acts or omissions, except for such damages as may result from the person’s gross negligence or wanton acts or omissions.”
For this law to be applicable, such ‘Samaritan’ must act without expectation of a reward.
In Nigeria, there is no such thing as GSL. This is due to the fact that the law does not impose an obligation on the citizens to help the wounded. One of the aims of law is to punish those who inflict harm as well as serving as a deterrent to the public and not to compel persons to do good. Exceptions lie where there is a contractual duty to do something, parental duty, and being responsible for a person. Another exception is where one creates a dangerous situation and on becoming aware of that situation, he does nothing to salvage it. However, in 2016, a Good Samaritan Bill was passed in the National Assembly. Hon. Jimi Benson (the sponsor of this bill) advocates the need for the enactment of GSL which in his words, “is to encourage Nigerians to be ready to help when faced with emergency situations instead of abandoning victims of such emergencies out of fear of how authorities, especially law enforcement, will view and interpret their efforts to help those in dire need of assistance.” It is on record at nationonline.ng that the bill was passed for second reading by the House and sent to the appropriate committee for further action. In essence, the bill seeks to protect anyone who assists the wounded on a voluntary basis and holds him not liable for any negative outcome save in cases where it was done out of gross negligence. In addition, it provides protection to unlicensed medical personnel who are not licensed in the arts of healing.
Irrespective of the good intent of the aforementioned bill, it remains unenforceable until enacted as a Law. By this implication, it remains without saying that GLS is not applicable in Nigeria.