Legal Questions
Penny Simpson Brooke JD, MS, APRN

June 2011 
Volume 41  Number 6
Pages 12 - 13
  PDF Version Available!

Recently, I was traveling out of state when I came upon a very serious car crash that had just occurred. As an RN, I felt obligated to help if I could. I was afraid the car's gas tank would explode, so I asked some bystanders to help me move the injured driver out of the front seat while trying to maintain spinal alignment.An emergency medical services (EMS) team arrived and took over soon after the driver was extricated. Not long after that, the car did catch on fire. But now I'm worried: If the driver sustained neurologic injuries from being moved, would I be held liable?-S.S., GA.All states have Good Samaritan laws, which are intended to encourage bystanders to help others in an emergency. In general, these laws protect bystanders from liability as long as they don't commit gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct. But details vary widely from state to state. For example, the protection given to rescuers with medical training may differ from that for laypeople. And in some states, the law doesn't apply unless the victim is in "imminent peril."Not knowing the location of the incident, I can't comment specifically on how the law would apply to you. But you acted in good faith when you removed the victim from the car, and you maintained spinal precautions during extrication from the vehicle in accordance with your training as an RN. All these actions meet the standard of care expected of a reasonable and prudent nurse in an emergency.The timing of your assistance may be the main question if the victim experiences a neurologic deficit such as paresis or paralysis. Could you and the other bystanders have waited for the EMS team, or do you believe you needed to act immediately because the diver was in "imminent peril"? Given the subsequent vehicle fire, a court in any state would most likely find your actions reasonable, prudent-and commendable.Yesterday, I mixed up prescriptions for two patients. Both had surgical wounds covered with a dressing. I mistakenly changed

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