Rhode Island Courts Protect the Policy Supporting Good Samaritan Actions
September 5th, 2017
“Danger invites rescue. The cry of distress is the summons to relief.” Courts have long recognized that individuals are compelled to stop and help others who are in need. Under Rhode Island’s Good Samaritan Act, not only is an individual unable to ignore the call of distress at the scene of an accident, he or she is statutorily required to render reasonable assistance.
Any person at the scene of an emergency who knows that another person is exposed to, or has suffered, grave physical harm shall, to the extent that he or she can do without danger or peril to himself or herself or others, give reasonable assistance to the exposed person. Any person violating the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a petty misdemeanor [and subject to imprisonment not more than 6 months or fine not more than $500.].
Applying Rhode Island’s public policy encouraging citizens to save others from life threatening situations, the Rhode Island Supreme Court has found that Good Samaritans should be protected, and not penalized, for their actions. Accordingly, the Court held that a motorist who was exiting her vehicle to help victims of an accident, was engaged in a transaction “essential to the use” of the rescuer’s vehicle. Such a finding allowed her to receive insurance benefits for her injuries at the scene of the accident that might not otherwise be adequately compensated.
Good Samaritan Act in Real Life
In the case of Hudson v. GEICO, Plaintiff Hudson was a passenger in a parked vehicle when she heard a sound of a crash, signifying an automobile collision nearby. As Hudson retrieved the license plate numbers from the vehicles involved in the crash, an oncoming vehicle struck and tragically injured her. Under the Good Samaritan Act, Hudson was actually required to exit her vehicle to assist the person(s) in the nearby accident since she was at the scene of the emergency and knew that a person was exposed to physical harm.
In this instance the Court found that Hudson was a Good Samaritan, an “essential use of the [rescuer’s] vehicle”, allowing her to benefit from the vehicle driver’s UM coverage to help compensate her for the extensive injuries she received. By determining that the Good Samaritan Act is an essential transaction of a vehicle’s use, Rhode Island courts allow rescuers to receive coverage when they stop and assist an accident, even after exiting a vehicle. In doing so, the courts emphasize the importance of being a Good Samaritan which encourages individuals to help others in need.
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 Wagner v. International Railway Co., 133 N.E. 437, 437, 438 (N.Y. 1921) (Cardozo, J.).
 R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-56-1.