WHO IS A GOOD SAMARITAN?
A “Good Samaritan” is a person, who in good faith, voluntarily comes forward and renders immediate assistance or emergency medical care to a person injured in an accident or crash without expectation of any payment or reward.
WHY BE A GOOD SAMARITAN?
The WHO (World Health Organisation) in its ‘World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention, 2004’ reported that by 2020, road accidents will be the biggest killers in India. A road accident victim requires immediate first aid or medical care, which only a person closest to the accident scene can provide. Bystanders are in a capacity to call for help, provide first aid to the victim and can even take them to the hospital in case the ambulance does not arrive on time. Most bystanders hesitate in providing any medical assistance to the injured due to fear of being involved in a prolonged police investigation. Death by accidents can be considerably prevented by providing medical assistance in the ‘Golden Hour’. The Golden hour is the very first hour after an injury. 50% of victims die due to serious cardiovascular and nervous system injuries due to lack of life support in the first 15 minutes and the rest can be saved by providing basic medical help during the first hour. The current annual death toll due to accidents on Indian roads is 1,40,000 and over 70,000 lives can be potentially saved if bystanders come to help.
HOW DID INDIA GET A GOOD SAMARITAN LAW?
In the last 10 years over 13 lakh, people have died due to road accidents. Many of these victims die due to preventable injuries or due to lack of immediate medical care in the first hour. Bystanders can play a game-changing role in saving lives if they, without any fear of legal repercussions and procedural hassles, render the necessary help to the injured. In 2012 ‘Save Life Foundation’ a non-profitable, non-governmental organisation filed a PIL (Save Life Foundation & Anr. v. Union of India & Anr. WRIT PETITION (C) NO.235 OF 2012) requesting the development of a legal framework that safeguards the interests of the Good Samaritans i.e. the bystanders and passers-by who render help to the road accident victims.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court directed the Central Government to issue the necessary guidelines for the protection of the Good Samaritans until the area is covered by proper legislation. Accordingly, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways issued a notification dated 12.05.2015 titled ‘Good Samaritan Guidelines’. The guidelines were to be followed by all hospitals, police and other authorities for safeguarding the interests of the good samaritans. The notification proposed the guidelines below in a comprehensive manner.
A good samaritan, be it a bystander or an eyewitness should be allowed to leave the hospital immediately after escorting the injured to the nearest hospital. Only an eyewitness can be asked to furnish his address before leaving. No further details or questions can be enquired of the samaritan.
The bystander/good samaritan should be compensated or rewarded for his gratuitous services in any manner as specified by the state government. This will encourage other citizens to come forward and render help to the road accident victims.
No civil or criminal liability shall be imposed on the bystander or good samaritan.
The good samaritan or bystander should not be forced to reveal his personal details on the phone or in-person while informing the police or emergency medical care about the person injured.
Disclosure of personal information such as name and contact details should be completely optional and voluntary.
Strict disciplinary action must be initiated against all those police officials who coerce or intimidate the good samaritan/bystander into revealing his personal details.
In case a good samaritan/ bystander voluntarily states that he is also an eyewitness to the incident and he is required to be examined for the purposes of investigation during the trial or by the police, such a person must be examined only on a single occasion and the State government to avoid any harassment/ intimidation of the samaritan must develop a standard operating procedure (SOP) within 30 days of the date of issue of notification.
The method of examination may either be by way of commission under Sec. 284 or as per Sec. 296 of the Code of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 formally on an affidavit.
For the purpose of examining the samaritan as an eye-witness video conferencing must be extensively used in order to avoid any inconvenience to them.
The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways ( MORTH) also issued a Standard Operating Procedure for the purpose of examination of the Good Samaritans.
Are the Guidelines enforceable?
The guidelines were given the ‘force of law’ by the Apex Court and it was ordered that all States and Union territories must comply with the guidelines as law laid down by this Court under Article 32 read with Article 142 of the Constitution of India, and the same be treated as binding as per the mandate of the Article 141. Thus, the power of the Court to issue guidelines in an area uncovered by any legislation is a well-settled practice. The Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction under Article 142 is empowered to lay down certain parameters to guide and control everyday governmental action.
Guidelines by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare
In 2015 the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued a notification reiterating a few guidelines laid down by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. The Ministry in addition to those further redirected that all registered hospitals whether public or private, should not compel a Samaritan to deposit any kind of registration or admission costs unless the Samaritan is in any way related to the injured. The injured must be treated immediately in pursuance of the order of the Apex Court in Pt. Parmanand Katara v. Union of India.
Lack of response by a doctor in an emergency situation where he is expected to provide immediate care will be regarded as “ Professional Misconduct” under Chapter 7 of Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulation, 2002 and disciplinary action shall be initiated against such doctors under Chapter 8 of such regulations.
A charter shall be published at the entrance of the hospitals in Hindi, English or in any vernacular language of the State or Union Territory directing that no samaritan/bystander must be detained or coerced into depositing any registration or admission costs.
The bystander must be provided with an acknowledgement stating that the injured was escorted by the bystander and brought to the hospital, and the time and place of occurrence of the incident, if he so requests.
Judicial Interpretations of Emergency Medical Care
In Pt. Parmanand Katara v. Union of India (AIR 1989 SC 2039) the Apex Court observed that every injured citizen brought for medical treatment must be given instant medical aid to preserve life and thereafter the procedural criminal law should be allowed to operate. Preservation of human life must be given paramount importance. The Supreme Court emphasised the need for making it obligatory for all hospitals and medical practitioners to provide emergency medical care even in medico-legal cases. An injured person or person in need of immediate medical assistance should not be turned out for any such reasons. Saving the person should be the topmost priority of a medical professional, police or any other citizen who notices such an incident or situation.
Good Samaritan (Protection from Civil and Criminal Liability) Miscellaneous Provisions Bill, 2014
The Bill was introduced as a Private Member’s Bill on Dec 12, 2014. MP (Member of Parliament) Kirron Kher introduced the bill and stressed the need for a good samaritan law in India. The Bill drew support from both the ruling and the opposition party. MP Kher said that the idea is to encourage people to come forward and help the injured or the destitute on the road and also to ensure that the person does not suffer from any harassment at the hands of the officials. Karnataka is the only state in the country which has adopted and enacted the Good Samaritan and Medical Professional (Protection and Regulation during Emergency Situations) Act, 2018. Though this year, the Parliament passed the Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill, 2019. The Bill proposed some radical changes such as the definition of Good Samaritan was introduced and Section 45 to the Amendment Act stated that:
A Good Samaritan shall not be liable for any injury or death caused due to his medical/non-medical assistance provided to an accident victim involving a motor vehicle.
The Central Government is empowered to lay down rules for the purpose of questioning or examination of the Good Samaritan, disclosure of personal information of the Good Samaritan and such other related matters.
The Supreme Court judgement is a significant milestone in the field of protection of Good Samaritans. It has been almost 4 years since the judgement was delivered but to date 8 out of 10 people are unaware of the fact that enough guidelines or protection is provided to a Samaritan who rescues a victim from the accident site and renders him the necessary medical help. The area of concern here is not an insufficiency of law but the ineffective implementation of it. People still turn a blind eye towards a helpless blood-soaked accident victim in fear of procedural hassles and police detention. Fear of civil and criminal liability prevents people from stepping forward towards helping road crash victims. There is no awareness of bystanders being protected by law. This awareness cannot come overnight, only a consistent outreach program and a centralised legislation can help spread the message further among the masses.