Explainer
Good Samaritans have legal protection in India, and it’s high time we stopped quoting ‘legal hassles’ as a reason for not helping.

A policeman died recently in a road crash in Mysuru, because he wasn’t taken to the hospital on time. While Mahesh Kumar was neither the first nor will be the last victim of an accident, the fact that none of the people who witnessed the crash or gathered at the spot afterwards called an ambulance is telling of a larger problem.

In a majority of road accident cases, people don’t come forward to help. Not because they’re apathetic to the victim’s plight; many don’t help because they’re afraid of getting into legal tangles, or scared that if they accompany the victim to the hospital, they might be asked to pay the bill.

The fears are not unfounded: there are enough instances of hospitals refusing to admit victims even in an emergency until someone pays up. There are also several cases where people who try to help have been forced to go to court multiple times to give testimony.

But if that is your reason for not helping out, you should know that the roadblock was removed by the Supreme Court several months ago. And if you’re in Karnataka, the government will soon bring in a law to ensure that good Samaritans who help accident victims are not embroiled in legal cases.

Rights of a good Samaritan

1. You can take a victim to a hospital and leave immediately after: Unless you witnessed the accident, you’re not even obliged to give your name or address to the hospital authorities. If you want to give your details, you’re free to do so.

2. You are not liable to any civil or criminal liability: No one can drag you to court for helping an accident victim.

3. If you call an ambulance or the police, you don’t have to give your name: You don’t have to reveal your identity at all, unless you want to.

4. If you volunteer to provide witness, you can only be examined once: The statement will be recorded at a time and place of your convenience, including by video conference. No police official, no court is allowed to ask you to give statements multiple times.

5. A police official not following these guidelines will face action: Disciplinary proceedings will be initiated against any police officer who forces a good Samaritan to reveal details or provide witness.

6. If a hospital or doctor refuses to help the victim, they will face action: The guidelines state that any doctor refusing to treat an accident victim will be charged with professional misconduct.

7. A hospital is mandated to give you an acknowledgement, if you want one: A written acknowledgement with the details of when you brought the victim in, and the time and place of the accident will have to be provided.

Notified by the central government in May 2015 after the Supreme Court ordered them to do so, these guidelines are actually enforceable. Meaning, if a police officer, hospital or any other authority violates these rights, you can take them to court.