Good Samaritan Law protection

Good Samaritan laws only go so far to protect D.C.s' liability.

Are DCs Protected by Good Samaritan Laws?

Q: I am considering providing chiropractic care to the workers and the victims of a natural disaster. Will I be protected from liability by the Good Samaritan law? A: To qualify for Good Samaritan protection, treatment must meet very specific criteria. Read on to find out more.

At NCMIC, we talk to many doctors when they call our Claims Advice Hotline about potential claims issues. The following reflects a common misconception among D.C.s: If you decide to provide chiropractic treatment after a disaster, keep in mind that to qualify for Good Samaritan protection, treatment must be rendered only in true emergency situations and offered voluntarily without accepting payment.

Most states have Good Samaritan statutes that shield people from litigation when they assist during an emergency and the patient is injured as a result of the care. However, these laws typically only shelter those who provide emergency care to seriously injured victims whose lives are in imminent danger and where treatment was not found to have been grossly negligent. 

Therefore, for example, if you offer chiropractic care to workers or non-emergency victims in the days after an incident, you will most likely NOT be protected from liability under the Good Samaritan laws. Plus, you will be held to the “reasonable and customary” standard. In other words, did you make an attempt to rule out serious problems, use reasonable care and competency, and practice within your state’s scope of practice?

Your goal after a disaster should be to render palliative care—relieving strains, stress and minor injuries—instead of rendering care for serious injuries. Be conscious of what is safe in the field, practice within the mainstream of chiropractic care and use appropriate equipment.

At the same time, treating someone in the field will be quite different than treating in a controlled office environment. For example, problems can result from using sports ice on workers in a chilly environment or providing stimulating supplements to workers who are already stressed.

Your disaster procedures should mirror as closely as possible how you would approach your evaluation and treatment if the patient presented in your office. In other words, examinations, assessments, treatments and follow-up care must be charted and maintained on each person you treat.

Some doctors rendering care in a disaster situation ask anyone receiving an adjustment to sign a “waiver” to release the doctor from culpability. However, if anything goes wrong, a waiver probably would not protect you in a court of law. A plaintiff attorney may attempt to paint your good intentions as “ambulance chasing.” Treating for free does not eliminate this concern because it could be perceived as an attempt to attract new patients.

Protect yourself to the extent possible by maintaining your professionalism and avoiding any appearance of using a disaster for future personal gain.

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