If you are traveling on a commercial airline and a fellow passenger or crew member has a medical emergency, are you as a physician required to help, and if so are you legally protected? In the United States, physicians are under no legal obligation to assist in these situations. However, the federal Aviation Medical Assistance Act of 1998 ensures that if you're flying in the United States, even if the airline is not owned by a U.S. company, you have Good Samaritan protection. Canada and the United Kingdom have similar laws. The laws on intercontinental flights are more complicated; the simplest explanation is that the laws of the country in which the airline is based are in effect. For example, on a flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia, on Qantas Airlines, Australian law would be in effect, which means you would have a duty to act.
Like state statutes, the Aviation Medical Assistance Act provides Good Samaritans with protection from lawsuits alleging negligence “unless the individual, while rendering such assistance, is guilty of gross negligence or willful misconduct.” The act protects airline companies from liability as well “if the carrier in good faith believes that the passenger is a medically qualified individual.” Airline employees meet the “in good faith” requirement by asking whether the person who volunteers to help is a health care provider.
Adapted from “What You Need to Know When Called Upon to Be a Good Samaritan.”
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