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Are nurses legally required to offer assistance at accident or emergency sites?

Wednesday October 17, 2012
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Dear Nancy,

I saw a four-car accident and pulled over to see if a nurse was needed, as the police or paramedics had not arrived yet. Are nurses supposed to stop and help or is it our choice? Or should we just stay out of it?


Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Karyn,

State law determines whether one is legally required to provide emergency care at the scene of an accident or other emergency. Some states require licensed healthcare professionals to do so (e.g., Wisconsin, Rhode Island), while others do not. Some have called these laws "duty to rescue" statutes.

Remember that most, if not all, states have passed Good Samaritan laws which provide immunity from suit for healthcare providers and ordinary citizens who provide emergency care to an individual in an accident or in an emergency situation, and does so without compensation and without prior knowledge of the person's medical state. The immunity only extends to "ordinary negligence", not willful or wanton negligence. You can check to see if your state has passed such legislation, and its parameters, by going to your state court home page and placing "Good Samaritan law" in the search bar.

There is another side to this issue, however, and that is whether there is an ethical responsibility to provide care at the scene of an accident or in an emergency. This is a decision each nurse must decide for themselves, especially when there is no legal duty to do something.


Nancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD, is an attorney in private practice in Wilmette, Ill. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal or any other advice. The reader is encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney or other professional when an opinion is needed.