You’re sitting at an intersection waiting for your light to turn green. Suddenly, a car flies by you and slams into another vehicle. Does the law require you, the witness, to call 911 or remain at the scene of the crash and assist? In Virginia, the answer is no. Although there is no legal obligation to stay on the scene, many feel morally compelled to help those injured in accidents, either by providing medical assistance or giving an eye-witness account to law enforcement.
Some may wish to help the injured but are reluctant to do so because of concern that their efforts could create legal headaches for themselves. Fortunately, Virginia has a “Good Samaritan” law aimed at protecting well-intentioned witnesses from liability issues. VA Code §8.01-225 provides that any person who renders emergency assistance in good faith shall not be liable for any civil damages. In other words, a person who tries to provide medical assistance cannot be held responsible for anything that happens because of their attempts. This law does have notable exceptions – it does NOT cover individuals who are: 1) the cause of the injury; 2) grossly negligent, or wildly reckless while aiding; or 3) getting paid to assist, i.e., police officers, fire-fighters, or EMTs.
If you have witnessed a car accident and remain at the scene, consider these 5 steps:
- First and foremost, make sure that you’re in a safe zone. The accident may have created dangerous traffic conditions, so be extremely cautious until you can be sure that the scene is safe. If the circumstances are dangerous, don’t add to the problem – wait for emergency personnel to arrive.
- If you have a cellphone (and at this point, who doesn’t?), the most useful move you can make is to call 911. If someone was injured in the accident, it is imperative that they receive trained medical attention as quickly as possible.
- If it is safe to approach the damaged vehicles, try to make the injured parties as comfortable as possible until help arrives. Do not attempt to move anyone unless the situation truly demands it.
- Note the details. Your eye-witness account of the accident could be important to all parties involved for insurance reasons, so try to write down as many details of the accident as you can after the fact. If you have witnessed a hit-and-run, it is especially important to record all the details of the vehicle that left the scene. If possible, take a picture of the vehicles with your cellphone. Otherwise, write down the make, model, color, and license plate number, as well as the time and location of the collision while it’s fresh in your mind.
- Finally, stay objective and don’t engage in debates about who or what caused the accident with those who are involved — wait to give your statement to police.
Your efforts as a “Good Samaritan” could potentially save a life, so the law does not want to discourage your humanity. Just remember to be safe while you’re helping!