25th May 2009
Law Reform Commission on “Good Samaritans” and Volunteers
REPORT PROPOSES LEGISLATION TO PROTECT “GOOD SAMARITANS” AND VOLUNTEERS FROM BEING SUED
Tuesday 26th May 2009: The Law Reform Commission’s Report on the Civil Liability of “Good Samaritans” and Volunteers will be launched at the Commission’s Office by the Attorney General, Mr Paul Gallagher SC, at 6.30pm this evening.
The Commission prepared this Report in response to a request by the Attorney General 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.
Main recommendation: a Good Samaritans and Volunteers Bill
The Commission has 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 Commission’s Report includes a draft Civil Liability (Good Samaritans and Volunteers) Bill which contains the Commission’s detailed proposals. The draft Bill would cover both Good Samaritans and also voluntary rescuers. The Commission has 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 of a very high level and that involves a high degree of risk or likelihood of injury. This gross negligence test is in line with similar laws in place in many countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
· The Commission also recommend that, while volunteering organisations would have to comply with the normal rules of civil liability – to take reasonable care in all the circumstances – they should also be able to argue that liability should not be imposed on them if it would not be just and reasonable in the circumstances to do so. This takes account of the overall policy objectives of encouraging volunteering activity in Ireland.
No new general duty to rescue people in danger
The Commission has also recommended in the Report that the law should not be amended to impose any general legal duty to intervene to rescue people in danger over and above what already exists in the law (for example, the duty of employers to provide first aid assistance to employees 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.
For further information / interview with Director of Research Raymond Byrne, contact:
Winifred McCourt, Weber Shandwick FCC, T: 01-6760168, or M: 087 2446004
Background Notes for Editors
The Law Reform Commission is an independent statutory body whose main role is to keep the law under review and to make proposals for reform. To date, the Commission has published over 140 documents containing reform proposals, available at www.lawreform.ie. Most of these proposals have led on to reforming legislation. The Report, which contains the Commission’s final recommendations and a draft Civil Liability (Good Samaritans and Volunteers) Bill 2009, will be available on the Commission’s website on the afternoon of the launch, 26th May 2009.