29th November 2007: The Law Reform Commission publishes its Consultation Paper on the Civil Liability of “Good Samaritans” and Volunteers today. The Consultation Paper will be launched at the Commission’s Office by the Attorney General, Mr Paul Gallagher SC, later today.
The Commission prepared this Consultation Paper in response to a request in 2006 by the then Attorney General, Mr Rory Brady SC, under section 4(2)(c) of the Law Reform Commission Act 1975 to consider the civil liability of: (a) those who intervene to assist and help an injured person (“Good Samaritans”) and (b) voluntary rescuers and other volunteers. The Attorney General’s request came after a Dáil debate in December 2005 on a Private Members Good Samaritan Bill 2005. The Attorney
General asked the Commission to consider whether the current law should be altered and, if so, what standard should apply to Good Samaritans and voluntary rescuers. The Attorney General also asked the Commission to consider whether the law should be reformed to impose a positive duty on citizens, members of the caring professions or members of an Garda Síochána or the Defence Forces (when not engaged in duties in the course of their employment) to intervene to assist an injured person or a person who is at risk of such an injury.
The Commission examined the Attorney General’s request against the background of two major issues: the roll-out of defibrilators (Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs)) in public places to prevent cardiac death (recommended in the 2006 Report of the Task Force on Sudden Cardiac Death) and the general promotion of active citizenship, discussed in the 2007 Report of the Task Force on Active Citizenship. The issue of possible liability of Good Samaritans or voluntary rescuers has been
raised in this context, although the Task Force Report noted that any concerns had not prevented people from continuing to volunteer. In approaching the Attorney General’s request, the Commission fully took into account this general background. The Commission’s analysis is that it is unlikely that liability would arise in most situations, although a residual risk of litigation cannot be ruled out, especially in the context of organised volunteering activity. Even here, the Commission is not currently aware of any claims against those involved in saving people’s lives or rescuing people in emergency situations.
No new general duty to intervene
The Commission has provisionally recommended in the Consultation Paper that the law should not be amended to impose any general positive duty to intervene to rescue people in danger over and above what already exists in the law (for example under safety and health at work legislation). This conclusion applies to citizens in general and also to members of the caring professions and members of an Garda Síochána or the Defence Forces. The Commission concluded that it was unlikely that any such duty would promote volunteering or active citizenship: indeed, the groups consulted by the Commission indicated that imposing any such duty might have the opposite effect.
A Good Samaritan and volunteers law
The Commission has provisionally recommended that, to deal with any anxiety on the part of those who decide to be Good Samaritans or who volunteer in society, and also to clarify the law, the relevant rules should be put in a statutory form. The proposed law would cover both Good Samaritans and also voluntary rescuers. The Commission has also provisionally recommended that the proposed legislation should provide for a full defence against a civil liability claim for Good Samaritans and
voluntary rescuers, unless there is gross negligence, that is, negligence falling far below the standard to be expected in the circumstances. This gross negligence test is in line with similar laws in place in many countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.