India has the highest number of road accident deaths in the world-10% of total global road deaths occur here. In 2013, almost 1,40,000 people were killed and close to 5,00,000 were seriously injured or permanently disabled. This number has only increased in 2014 and 2015. Most of these deaths occur because of lack of emergency treatment when needed; according to a survey conducted by SaveLIFE foundation, 50% of the deaths in road accidents could be avoided if the victims are given emergency medical care. This corresponds to the golden hour principle in medical literature which states that the first hour after the accident is crucial in stabilizing the patient and if no emergency medical attention and care is given to the patient then he/she might suffer from grave repercussions or even death. Therefore, bystanders and Good Samaritans have an indispensable role in saving life as they usually are the first responders. However, according to a national study titled -“Impediments to Bystander Care in India” conducted by SaveLIFE Foundation and TNS India Pvt Ltd, 74% of bystanders are unlikely to assist victims of road accidents. 88% of those bystanders gave the following reasons for their reluctance: legal hassles, including repeated police questioning and multiple court appearances. 77% of the respondents cited detention at hospitals and having to pay hospital registration fees and other charges as reasons not to help. Therefore, there is a need for Good Samaritan law in India.
The phrase Good Samaritan has its origin in the biblical parable of the same name. The parable goes as follows: a man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho was mugged by thieves who left him half dead. A priest and a Levite passed him by, but both ignored him and went on their way. A Samaritan (person from Samaria) came by, who helped him, dressed his wound and gave him shelter. In conclusion to this parable, Jesus said that a neighbor is one who shows mercy. The phrase Good Samaritan is derived from this parable. This is used to refer to a person who helps a stranger.
It is on this basis that the Good Samaritan law is named so; it refers to a set of legal incentives designed to encourage bystanders to help victims of some accident or event. Generally, there are two kinds of Good Samaritan legislations, one exists in civil law countries like France, Germany, Spain and Italy, which imposes a duty to rescue or assist and if a citizen fails to do so, he/she is punished. Others do not impose such duty to rescue on citizens, instead shields them from liability.
As already mentioned before, majority of Indian population prefer not to come forward and help an accident victim because they fear the legal repercussion of their actions; this is exemplified by the Jaipur case of 2013, where a small girl and her mother bled to death on the street as no one came forward to help them. This incident is not an isolated incident; hundreds of people all over the country lose their life everyday because they do not get the emergency help which they require. To remedy this situation, a Good Samaritan law is needed in India.
Although, as of now, there is no legislation on this point, there has been discourse on this matter, the Law Commission in 2006, has published a report on emergency medical care to victims of accidents and during emergency medical condition. The Supreme Court has issued guidelines for the same and went ahead to appoint a committee (Skandan Committee) to look into the concern. Apart from that, Kiran Kher has also introduced a bill in the Parliament, titled-“Good Samaritan (Protection from Civil and Criminal Liabilities) and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill, 2014”. The Bill looks at three important aspects of the issue – the rights of a Good Samaritan, who helps a road crash victim, the duties of hospitals with respect to provisions of emergency care, and directions to law enforcement authorities with regard to questioning a Good Samaritan. The Bill places safeguards in cases where the Good Samaritan agrees to help with the investigation of the case, while ensuring that the onus of evidence collection and investigation falls on the law enforcement agencies, not on the Good Samaritan. It also gives clear directions to hospitals to not demand payment of treatment fees from the Good Samaritan, and not to delay treatment for payment of hospital fees. A Good Samaritan Fund is proposed to process claims of hospitals in such cases.
This bill is a positive step towards improving the situation in India but along with it, India should also enact a “duty to rescue or assist” provision, like the one existing in France as well. Such an act would motivate different people differently to be a Good Samaritan; many people would act out of a desire to be law abiding; others would act out of fear of legal sanctions, particularly when witnesses were present; some who are timid, would be provided with the necessary motivation to intervene; and still others would be moved to action by a heightened sense of the morality of rescue. Thus keeping in mind the situation in India, the ideal legislature would be one which balances the duty to rescue, along with legal rights of the Good Samaritan and provides them with adequate protection.
About the Author
Alifya Vora is a first year student pursuing her B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) from Symbiosis Law School, Pune. In her spare time she enjoys reading. She is associated with an NGO in Pune and Greenpeace. Currently, she is interning with the Model Governance Foundation.