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December 10, 2016

CPR Injuries and Liability

With an increasing number of people attending CPR classes, many of them wonder about whether they can be held liable if a person they help receives injuries from emergency medical care. It is certainly a plausible concern, as broken ribs are a very common occurrence. Anytime CPR is performed, there is essentially a 50/50 chance that it will result in a broken bone.

Why Do Broken Bones Happen?

The very nature of CPR creates conditions that are favorable to the development of broken ribs. The rescuer has to place the heel of his hand on the victim’s chest and press down at least two inches thirty times for each round of chest compressions. That comes out to about a hundred compressions per minute. Not surprisingly, broken ribs can be expected.

Good Samaritan Laws

In the event that the rescuer does break a rib or two while performing CPR, can the injured party recover monetary damages in court?

They can try, of course, although one could argue that this is a matter of ethics. Why on earth would someone sue the person who saved their life, even if it did result in injury?

Unfortunately, we live in a world where people take legal action against entire national food chains over coffee that is deemed “too hot.” So the law has had to step in to protect anyone who renders emergency medical care in an emergency situation.

Every state in the U.S. has Good Samaritan laws in place. The specifics may vary a bit depending on what state hears the case, but the basic general protections are all the same. No one who offers emergency care in good faith can be held legally liable for any physical injuries or other damage that occurs because of their actions.

It is worth noting that a few states have a narrower view and only apply these laws to medical professionals, thereby excluding volunteers. Most states also exclude blatant willful or negligent misconduct from legal protection.

Gross Negligence

A lawsuit against a rescuer who performed CPR and broke a few ribs will only hold up in court if gross negligence can be proven. Something must have been done right if the victim is alive to complain about the injury, so it will be very difficult to demonstrate negligent behavior on the part of the rescuer, even if he or she has no formal training.

On that note, there has never been a successful lawsuit against a rescuer performing CPR that resulted in broken ribs.

The only exception may be represented by a situation in which it is known that a victim does not wish to have CPR in the event of an emergency. In this case, their wish needs to be respected.

Otherwise, as long as the rescuer’s actions are reasonable in the circumstances, there is generally no reason to fear a lawsuit if a victim is injured during CPR.

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