Can You Sue After Someone Saves Your Life?
Would you rather:
Die after a heart attack
Survive a heart attack after an onlooker performs CPR
The answer is obvious: you want to survive, of course! In the event of a heart attack, choking event, or other medical emergency, you always want to hope that there’s someone around who can help.
But for some people, Choice B comes with a caveat. CPR (and other life saving techniques, like the Heimlich maneuver) can contribute to other injuries, like broken ribs. If you survive a medical emergency thanks to an onlooker’s assistance, but suffer other injuries as a result of their interference, what are you supposed to do? Can you sue them for causing injuries, even if they saved your life?
CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The word “resuscitate” means “to revive,” and CPR does just that. If a person stops breathing, or if their heart stops beating, properly performed CPR can bring them back to life.
Basic CPR involves pressing down on the victim’s chest, or giving chest compressions. For people trained in CPR, rescue breathing is the second step of CPR. Rescue breathing involves pinching the victim’s nostrils shut and breathing into their mouth.
If a random bystander sees someone in need of CPR, chest compressions are the best bet. However, even chest compressions can cause unintentional injuries. Broken ribs frequently arise from CPR, regardless of if is performed by an onlooker or trained emergency personnel. Since CPR requires force on a person’s chest, broken ribs are an unfortunate, yet understandable, side effect. In more severe cases, CPR could cause trauma to other internal organs.
Another life-saving technique that can cause unintended injuries is the Heimlich maneuver. Also called abdominal thrusts, the Heimlich maneuver clears the airway of a choking victim. The process involves standing behind a choking victim, making a fist, and pressing it into the victim’s stomach with upward thrusts. When someone has a piece of food or a foreign object lodged in their throat, these quick movements should dislodge it, allowing them to breathe again.
However, like CPR, the Heimlich maneuver can cause a range of complications, including throat injuries, abdominal pain, or even retinal detachment from the sudden movements.
Grounds for a Lawsuit?
In most cases, people are glad to be alive, even if they suffered broken ribs or other pains as a result. They are usually thankful to the person who saved them, and have no desire to sue them, even if their actions did cause injuries.
But if they wanted to, could they successful sue? Probably not. Underneath the Good Samaritan Act, people who help ill or injured people are usually except from any legal repercussions. Florida’s Good Samaritan Act states that:
any person . . . who gratuitously and in good faith renders emergency care or treatment either in direct response to emergency situation related to and arising out of a public health emergency . . . shall not be held liable for any civil damages as a result of such treatment . . . or as a failure to act in providing or arranging further medical treatment.
Similarly, if a bystander chooses not to help, they are not necessarily liable, either. For example, a bystander who witnesses someone having a heart attack, but chooses not to assist because they believe they cannot safely perform CPR, is still acting in good faith.
If an injury arises out of negligence, however, it may be grounds for a lawsuit. For example, if a hospital staff member neglects to perform CPR because they misdiagnose a patient’s cardiac arrest, it may be medical malpractice.
If an injury arises from CPR, the Heimlich maneuver, or another life-saving technique, it’s probably best to be thankful! However, if the injuries occurred through negligence or bad faith, the injured victim may have grounds for a lawsuit.
The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.