Assisting a stranger especially in emergencies is a natural tendency for many people. However, the legal consequences of aggravating the situation inhibit the majority of the people from being good Samaritans to people in need. With the introduction of the ‘Good Samaritan’ law in the United Arab Emirates, approximately 78% of the public is willing to help a person in need. In November 2020 the UAE became the first Arab country to pass this law, permitting bystanders to provide medical aid during emergencies without the fear of any legal consequences.

The Doctrine of Good Samaritan

Through statutory provisions that provide legal protection to anyone who gives reasonable support to a person who is, or is reasonably believed to be, injured, ill, in danger, or incapacitated, the Good Samaritan law aims to decrease the bystanders’ hesitation to assist. The root of this reluctance is the worry of the possibility of being prosecuted or sued for unintentional wounding or death that the Good Samaritan law eliminates. This law was created to involve rescuers and first aiders to provide help during the repercussions of an emergency.

Developed in common law jurisdictions, the principle of Good Samaritan protects the responding rescuer who voluntarily aided the suffering victim, from being legally liable for any harm that was caused to the person who received assistance, on condition that the administrated assistance was rationally conducted in good faith, according to the accurate level of training. The Good Samaritan circumstance may occur at any point in life, particularly during medical emergencies, vehicular accidents, sports, and events. The key elements of Good Samaritan laws are:

  • Permission to be obtained from the person seeking assistance when possible;
  • Care to be given in an appropriate and non-reckless manner;
  • Rescuer must not be the person who caused such a situation;
  • Assistance to be administered in an emergency, in the absence of trained help.

The Necessity of the Good Samaritan Law in the UAE

Good Samaritan laws are established in countries to boost the survival rates and encourage the general public to provide assistance in potentially life-threatening situations. The survival rates of patients will increase if CPR could be administered early, airways could be unblocked and opened to help in breathing and bleedings could be stopped. In the UAE, cardiac arrest survival rates are fairly low, ranging between 4% to 13% outside hospitals, that is one out of ten people survive. Dr Saleh Fares, head of the Emirates Emergency Medicine Division at the Emirates Medical Association (EMA), states that, with the introduction of the Good Samaritan law, it is anticipated that six out of ten people may survive with the start of an immediate CPR. Thus, a simple change, along with multiple people learning how to provide first aid can improve the survival rates drastically in the UAE.

Previously, the Abu Dhabi Police had criminalized the act of providing assistance without completing proper training in first aid, causing the public to be very reluctant to take action in emergency situations due to their fear of being prosecuted under criminal charges. This new law thereby aims to remove this reluctance and enhance the survival rates of the country.

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International Good Samaritan Law

Though Good Samaritan laws are tailored with particular measures to suit the specific jurisdictions it is established in, there are common features in the law that allows for optimal governance of such situations. The UAE has also taken these factors into consideration while making its law for Good Samaritans. These features are:

  1. Imminent Peril – this refers to the presence of serious danger or a grievous threat to life. If there is an absence of imminent peril, the rescuer might be prosecuted for being reckless and may not be availed for protection under the doctrine. 
  2. No Intended Reward or Compensation – the intention behind offering the aid must not be any reward or compensation. This also includes the non-protection of medical professionals under this doctrine as if they are administering assistance as a part of their employment.
  3. Obligation to Remain – after initiating the first aid, the rescuer may not leave the premises of the accident until it is safe to do so, or if a rescuer of equal or higher ability takes over, or if continuing the assistance is unsafe. 
  4. Consent – The consent of the patient is compulsory for the responder, or of the legal guardian of a patient if he/she is a minor. The consent could be considered unattended if the patient is in an unconscious or delusional state. Say if a patient is under any kind of medication or chemical substances that in turn makes him/her make decisions regarding his or her safety, or if the responder has any pragmatic reasons to have a belief that this is the case.
  5. Duty to Assist – all bystanders do not have a duty to assist. Unless a caretaker relationship (such as a doctor-patient or parent-child relationship) exists prior to the incidence of injury or illness, or unless the Good Samaritan is responsible for the existence of the incidence of injury or illness, no person is obliged to give aid of any sort to a victim.

The UAE’s Good Samaritan Law

Under the 2020 amendment, Good Samaritans who intervene in emergency situations can provide assistance without being liable for the possible outcome, provided it is administered in good faith. Under a long-standing, but rarely used clause, which is now over-written, a person could be held accountable for the injury or death of someone to whom they gave CPR or other first aid. The new law states that “If any person who’s been taken some critical steps or action out of good intention, which then unintentionally did hurt that person whose being rescued at the time. Then that will not be punished”.