The urgent nature of emergencies leaves responders with little or no room for pre-emptive planning. Therefore to prevent emergency response workers from the ravages of legal suits, States in the US made deliberate pre-emptive legal schema to protect these relief groups. These laws protect emergency response teams from liability to encourage their future willingness to respond to emergency cases. The scope of the immunities under the law, however, has limitations depending on the nature of employment of the emergency responders (paid or volunteer) and/or scope of expertise of the response team and circumstances contiguous of an emergency response.
Immunity extended to employees and volunteers alike by Federal governments cushions them against legal culpability resulting from negligence during emergency response. The law, rooted in the English common law, under the 11th amendment of the USA constitution, stipulates that the state cannot engage in illegal acts, and therefore, cannot be sued (Hoffman, 2007). The Volunteer Protection Act (VPA) extends partial immunity from prosecution for acts of negligence by individual volunteers, governmental, and non-governmental organizations, which does not cover gross negligence. The aforementioned volunteers are, however, not immune from internal suits from their employers (Banta-Green et al, 2013). Additional immunities are conferred to emergency workers in the event of a declaration of Emergency states by state governors. Similar provisions under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act) also vindicate emergency response workers from victimization in events of loss necessitated by disease countermeasures including vaccines, drugs, and quarantine. Banta-Green notes that individuals who, out of providence, are present at an emergency scene and extend any form of help to the victims are protected under the Good Samaritan laws. These individuals may not be affiliated with any emergency groups. The laws reduce the threshold of attention the emergency victims may receive due to the nature of help extended by the Samaritan, which may not necessarily be professional.
The scope of the immunity laws should be revised to ensure more specificity. The Good Samaritan law, for instance does not take into account the intentions of third party non-professionals involved in emergency response. Such respondents could by omission or intentional commission aggravate already difficult situations during disasters. The code of ethics should permit entitlement of emergency response groups to immunity whose scope should not include gross negligence. Negligence and eventualities necessitated by multi-agency cooperation should however be overlooked and immunity allowed due to subscriptions to different chains of command and protocols
Banta-Green, C. J., Beletsky, L., Schoeppe, J. A., Coffin, P. O., & Kuszler, P. C. (2013). police officers’ and paramedics’ experiences with overdose and their knowledge and opinions of Washington State’s drug overdose -naloxone -Good Samaritan law. Journal of Urban health , 90 (6), 1102-1111.
Hoffman, S. (2007). Responder’s Responsibility: liability and immunity in public health emergencies (Vol. 96). Geogia: L.J .