A man eating at a restaurant suddenly gasps. He grabs his throat, unable to speak. Luckily, an off-duty nurse is standing in line, waiting for her meal. She steps in and performs the Heimlich maneuver, dislodging the food stuck in the man's throat and saving his life. However, she cracks three of his ribs in the process.
Can he sue her for his broken ribs?
In this situation, the answer is "No."
Missouri Revised Statute 537.037, which was updated by legislators in 1997, is one type of "Good Samaritan Law" that exists within the state. This law gives immunity to medical providers who attempt to intervene at the scene of a medical emergency, not counting emergencies when they are "on the clock." It covers doctors, surgeons, registered nurses, practical nurses, paramedics, and others employed in a medical capacity.
When medical providers render aid to those in need, they are immune from potential civil lawsuits that could be brought against them for harm done in providing that emergency care. Please note, this right of immunity does not apply in situations where someone demonstrated willful or wanton behavior or other acts of gross negligence.
Now, let's take it one step further: what about regular people? In a recent example, what if someone suffers a drug overdose, but his friends are afraid to call 911 because they don't want to be charged criminally?
Missouri Overdose Good Samaritan Law
The Missouri legislature has taken action in response to the national opioid epidemic. This new law, Senate Bill 501, is another type of Good Samaritan Law that seeks to prevent unnecessary drug overdose deaths. Based on the bill, if someone witnesses a person experiencing a drug overdose and calls 911, he or she may avoid criminal charges when responders arrive. Thus far, roughly 35 states have a similar law and the results have been between a 10% and 20% reduction in deaths, and calls to 911 to report overdoses have increased by approximately 30%.
And believe us, this new law was necessary.
Missourian Cynthia Byersmith's son is just one reason why. Cynthia explained that her son, Craig, was with several friends who were also under the influence of drugs when he suffered an overdose in 2014. He had been dead for over an hour before someone contacted an ambulance. She feels the others didn't call 911 immediately for fear of arrest. In this case, death could have been avoided. Cynthia has spoken out in favor of the state's new Good Samaritan law.
Last year saw at least 63,000 reported cases of drug overdoses across the U.S. The majority of these deaths were the result of opioid abuse, which has spiked among people between 25 and 54 years old. Heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, methadone-these drugs are killing more and more people each year. But if people aren't afraid to speak up and report the abuse, we can save thousands.
The Drug That Can Help
U.S. News confirmed that pharmacists across Missouri are permitted to sell the drug Naloxone. This drug is capable of preventing death during a drug overdose. It has been proven to instantly revive people in certain circumstances, and allow for additional time to get the person to an emergency room. Naloxone is generally available for purchase without a prescription, and local agencies usually maintain a supply on hand as well. The medication is administered in one nostril using a sprayer. If three minutes elapse with no response, a second dose should be given.
However, we strongly recommend you call 911 immediately instead of relying on this drug. And the state, through its new Good Samaritan Law, agrees.
If you have any questions about the legal issues discussed here, we offer a free consultation at the medical malpractice law firm of Norton & Norton, P.C. You can call (816) 607-4750 or contact us.