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Understanding The Virginia Good Samaritan Law and Your Legal Rights

You are driving on Interstate 264 (I-264) headed towards Chesapeake when you notice a disabled vehicle and an unconscious driver. You quickly stop to see if you can be of assistance. Another vehicle on I-264 winds up hitting your car and seriously injuring you. 

A Rescuer Can Receive Compensation If Injured During A Rescue Attempt

Someone who knowingly and willingly puts themselves in harm’s way and is injured in the process could actually be barred from pursuing civil restitution if a defendant asserts the contributory negligence defense and/or assumption of the risk.  Virginia is one of the few remaining states that continues to adhere to the antiquated contributory negligence doctrine. However, under Virginia's Good Samaritan Doctrine, a defendant's contributory negligence or assumption of the risk defense can be defeated. The only exception is if the rescuer’s conduct was rash or reckless. The Good Samaritan Doctrine is based upon the policy rationale that it is commendable to save another from injury or death. 

Keep in mind, for the Good Samaritan Doctrine to apply, a rescue attempt must have been for the purpose of helping someone in, or at least reasonably appeared to be in, “imminent and serious peril of injury or death.”

So, for example, if you're attempting to "rescue" your property, that would be insufficient to raise the Good Samaritan Doctrine as a counter to a contributory negligence or assumption of the risk defense. The danger must be “real or at least a reasonable appearance of imminent peril to another,” and not “merely imaginary or speculative.” See Commonwealth v. Millsaps, 232 Va. 502 (1987). In Millsaps, the Court stated the Doctrine is broad enough to include a rescuer who acts on reasonable suspicion of imminent serious injury or death, even though it later turns out that there was no imminent threat.

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The Good Samaritan Law Also Protects a Rescuer From Civil Liability

In Virginia, the Good Samaritan Doctrine also protects a rescuer from civil liability if the rescuer used reasonable care in their rescue attempt but wound up causing physical harm or property damage. In order for the rescuer to be shielded from civil liability, Virginia Code § 8.01-225 requires that the rescuer’s actions be performed in good faith, and without compensation.

In other words, if the rescuer injured a party or property while offering reasonable care or assistance, the rescuer will not be civilly liable unless there is evidence that the rescuer’s actions were unreasonable or that the rescuer received some form of payment for their actions.

Injured Rescuer Can Pursue Financial Restitution

The rescuer may also pursue financial restitution through a personal injury claim if they suffered an injured as a result of the negligent acts of a third party. Again, in order to recover, the rescuer must not have acted recklessly. As a general rule, whether a rescuer acted recklessly is a question for the jury. If you or a loved one was seriously injured while trying to help another, you should speak to an experienced Virginia Beach personal injury attorney. They can help you assess your legal rights and determine whether it makes sense to move forward with a claim. 

Richard N. Shapiro
Personal Injury & Wrongful Death Lawyer Serving Va Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake & all of Virginia
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