In need of more humans on the road: A good Samaritan law

Introduction

In 2015, there were about 5 lakh road accidents in India, which killed about 1.5 lakh people and injured about five lakh people. India, as a signatory to the Brasilia declaration,[1] intends to reduce accidents and traffic facilities by 50% by 2020.[2] The statistics provided as per the Ministry of Road, Transport & Highways, 2017 shows that the overall road accidents in 2017 accounted for 4, 64,910 wherein 1,47,913 people lost their lives and 4,70,975 faced severe injuries, out of which maximum accidents have happened on roads other than national and State highways which accounts for about 45%.[3] These are the roads that are not properly managed. As per the study conducted in 2016 by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (UNESCAP) revealed that India loses $58 billion annually due to road accidents which is worth about three per cent of the GDP.[4]This shows that road accidents is something worth giving attention to and has to be on the priority list of country’s agenda.

When a road accident occurs, bystander will usually try to help the injured, or at least call for help. In India it is completely different. In a country with some of the world’s most dangerous roads, victims are all too often left to tend for themselves. In a 2013 survey by Save Life Foundation (an independent, non- profit, NGO) found that 74% of Indians were unlikely to help an accident victim, whether alone or with other bystanders.[5] Good Samaritans can play a prominent role during the golden hour of an injury. According to World Health Organization, in the absence of established emergency medical services; bystanders can play a game changing role in saving lives. Apart from the fear of being falsely implicated, people also worried about becoming trapped as a witness in court case- legal proceedings can be notoriously protracted in India. And if they helped the victim get to hospital, they feared coming under pressure to stump up fees for medical treatment.


Role of Judiciary in developing Good Samaritan Law

The judiciary has played a profound role in the introduction of the Good Samaritan Law in India. In 1989, for the first time the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that refusal of hospitals to grant emergency relief to people injured in accidents is violation of their right to life and there can be no second opinion that preservation of human life is of paramount importance.[6] Providing adequate medical facilities to the people is an essential part of the obligations undertaken by the government in a welfare State.[7] In 2012, Save Life Foundation filed a PIL in the Apex Court requesting the court to insulate good Samaritans who come forward to help that encourages bystanders to help people who are injured.8 In October, 2014, the Apex Court directed the Central government to issue the guidelines until appropriate legislation is enacted. As a result the Good Samaritan (Protection from Civil and Criminal Liabilities) and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill was introduced in Parliament in 2014 to protect a Good Samaritan from civil and criminal liabilities, however no effective legislation is in place. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways laid down certain Guidelines and Standard Operating Procedure in 2016 which were approved by the Supreme Court and made them enforceable in all States and Union Territories till an effective enactment is placed.


Some of the laudable features of Good Samaritan Guidelines

It provides that the bystander or Good Samaritan including the eyewitness of a road accident who takes an injured to the hospital can leave without disclosing their identity except details regarding address and no questions shall be asked to them. Further it laid down that they shall be suitable rewarded or compensated in the manner as specified. Any bystander, who calls the police or emergency services, cannot be compelled to reveal his personal details. It is specifically provided that any disclosure of personal information by the bystander shall be voluntary and optional including the Medico- Legal Case (MLC) form provided by the hospitals. If bystander is intimated or coerced by public officials to dispose personal details; a strict disciplinary or departmental action can be initiated by the government. For the purposes of investigation any bystander or Good Samaritan shall be examined on a single occasion and the State Government shall develop standard operating procedures (SOP) to ensure that they don’t face any kind of harassment or intimidation by the police or during the trial including that they should be treated respectfully and without any discrimination on the grounds of race, caste, religion or any other grounds. The method of examination may be either through commission[8] or formally through an affidavit.[9] As directed by the Central Government, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued guidelines providing that all registered public and private hospitals are not to detain bystander or demand payment for registration and admission costs, and they can do so only if the

Good Samaritan is a family member or relative of the injured and is to be treated immediately.[10] These guidelines specifically provided that lack of response by a doctor in an emergency situation pertaining to road accidents, where it is expected to provide care, shall amount to ‘Professional Misconduct’.12 No bystander or Good Samaritan can be detained or asked to deposit money for the treatment of a victim by any hospital. Lastly, the implementation of these guidelines is mandatory for both public as well as private hospital.

However even after 2 years since the judgment on Good Samaritan Law, study[11] shows that 84% people are not aware of these guidelines, 76% medical professionals reported that no action was taken against professionals who did not comply with the Good Samaritan Law, 59% Good Samaritans reported being detained by the police. The study also reveals that the implementation of these guidelines if a major challenge. Given the low levels of awareness, interventions must be centered on raising awareness about the law among citizens and key stakeholders.


Good Samaritan Law and The Motor Vehicle Amendment Bill, 2019

Realizing the same Motor Vehicle Amendment Bill, 2019 has been laid on the table with incorporation of some new provisions related to golden hour, Good Samaritan and information relating to accident which were missing from the original Act. The bill defines what a golden hour is, it means the time period lasting one hour following a traumatic injury during which there is highest likelihood of preventing death by providing prompt medical care.