As members of society, we have a certain social responsibility. This includes helping others who are in trouble. In an emergency, sometimes the rescuer or “Good Samaritan" actually ends up injuring the victim. Sometimes, the rescuer is the one injured.
In this article, Éducaloi discusses how far you need to go to help someone in trouble. This article also explains how Good Samaritans can be held responsible for their actions in an emergency.
Do I have to help someone whose life is in danger?
As a general rule, the law requires you to help someone whose life is in danger. For instance, this obligation applies to a driver involved in a traffic accident. It also applies to anyone who witnesses something that needs emergency action.
Example: Your neighbour has a sudden heart attack, and you see her collapse on her front lawn. You have an obligation to help her by calling 911, and you must help her physically as well if you know what to do.
You do your duty to help every time you physically provide the assistance needed in a situation, and every time you get help by contacting the police, firefighters or paramedics.
But you don’t have an obligation to help at all costs: You don’t have to help someone if you would be putting yourself or other people in danger, or if there is another good reason.
Example: You arrive at the scene of an accident involving dozens of people. After calling 911, you help the most seriously injured. In theory, the people you don’t have time to help can’t hold it against you.
Another example: You see a car plunge into a river after an accident. If you can’t swim, you don’t have an obligation to try to save the victims. But you do have to call for help as soon as possible.
If I help someone during an emergency but my actions cause injury, can I be held responsible?
A person who helps someone generally can’t be held responsible for damage caused by the help. This is called the "Good Samaritan rule."
However, this rule does not apply if the damage is caused by the rescuer’s intentional or gross fault.
- An intentional fault happens when a person intends to harm or injure someone else. Example: You hate the victim and delay calling for help so that the victim will suffer.
- A gross fault happens when a person shows a lack of concern, carelessness or gross negligence that totally disregards other people. Example: As you save a friend from drowning, you push everyone else off the boat, causing them to drown.
How is a Good Samaritan expected to act?
A Good Samaritan is expected to get involved when necessary and use all reasonable efforts that have a chance of success.
If there is no chance of success but the Good Samaritan decides to act anyway, this is considered careless. The rule is simple: Rescuers must not be reckless or careless because their actions might make an already difficult situation even worse.
The courts excuse the Good Samaritan who causes injury when helping someone in trouble. Example: When performing CPR on someone, you crack two of her ribs. You can’t be held responsible for this unfortunate consequence.
The courts aren’t as forgiving when the damage is due to the Good Samaritan’s recklessness.
I am injured while helping someone. Can I receive compensation for this?
Yes, you can receive compensation. Under the Act to promote good citizenship, someone who helps a person in danger is entitled to compensation. If the person who helped dies, his or her spouse and children will receive compensation in some situations.
The law allows compensation in these cases:
- physical injury
- property damage (maximum of $1,000)
However, compensation under the Act to promote good citizenship is not automatic. It is only available when the Good Samaritan doesn’t qualify for compensation under any other Quebec law. These are some of the laws that allow compensation:
- Act respecting industrial accidents and occupational diseases
- Crime Victims Compensation Act
- Automobile Insurance Act
You can also file a civil lawsuit against the person responsible for your injury in the hopes of receiving compensation to make up for your loss.
Is there a deadline for claiming compensation?
Yes. The claim must be made within a year following the Good Samaritan’s injury or death. Funeral expenses must be claimed within a year of the funeral.
If no claim is made by these deadlines, the law presumes that you have waived your right to ask for compensation. If you still want compensation, you will have to sue the person responsible for your injury. You have three years from the time of your injury to file a lawsuit.
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.