Sometimes we speak with people who are afraid to provide life-saving first aid, because they are afraid of legal action.

Whether at work or when out and about, it is important that we are all willing to help someone, without the fear of any legal repercussions.

After all, if it was us – or a loved one –  needing help, we’d all hope that there was a Standby Superhero ready to try their best!

This article is designed to bust the myth that you might be sued for trying to help to help someone:

Reading time: 9 minutes

In this article we will use the user friendly term ‘Basic Life Support’ rather Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation or CPR, and ‘Defib’ rather than ‘Automated External Defibrillator or AED’

Did you know?

  • Up to 60,000 people die each year in the UK from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) . That’s over 164 people each day.
  • Currently less than 1 in 10 people survive if cardiac arrest happens out of hospital.
  • Survival rates can be significantly improved if Basic Life Support is given, and a Defib is used.
  • Both can be delivered by members of the public, even if they’ve not had training.
  • Source: Resuscitation Council UK

People are scared of being sued.

We understand.

First Aiders on our courses tell us all the time. And, it’s not surprising considering just how physical giving Basic Life Support is. It’s scary.

The fact is that the likelihood of causing harm by giving life support to someone needing it is super, super small.

Anyone who attempts to help would only be legally liable if it could be shown that they had left a person in a worse position than if they had taken no action at all.

Basic Life Support is given to a casualty who is not responding, and not breathing. Without help death is inevitable.  So, someone considered to be in a ‘worse position’ from receiving help is virtually impossible.

Even when using a Defib – it will only shock if the casualty needs it. You can’t deliver a shock to someone that does not need one.

The courts have always looked favourably on those who have gone to the assistance of others. And reassuringly, despite a couple of attempted claims, to date there has been no reported successes of someone trying to take action against a first aider in the UK for giving life-saving help.

Do I *have* to help someone in need?

In the UK, there is no legal obligation for others to help a person in need of resuscitation – provided they were not the cause of the person needing help!

This applies equally to laypeople and healthcare professionals who are not on duty.

Sometimes, certain professionals would be considered to have a duty of care, this includes:

  • a doctor or nurse responsible for the health and wellbeing of a patient under their professional care
  • ambulance staff dispatched to attend a particular incident
  • a trained first aider in a workplace, who has willingly taken on this role as part of their employment.

But, realistically what else would you do but try and help?

The scary thing would be to be at the scene of an emergency and have no idea what to do.

“Workplace first aiders have a duty of care to help someone in need.”

In the very rare case of an attempted claim, courts would take in consideration that the rescuer was a volunteer and not a healthcare professional.

It’s super important that a First Aider’s skills are kept up to date.

In a life-threatening emergency, if first aid is given correctly (as it has been trained), it’s unlikely that a successful claim for negligence could be brought.

However, if first aid was carried out incorrectly, with disregard for modern accepted practice and current recommendations, or because skills had not been kept up-to-date, it is possible that liability could arise.

Read our post here about how refresher training makes first aiders feel fabulous!

Checklist: How to avoid liability

The best way to avoid personal liability is to follow good practice. This means:

  • acting in good faith for the benefit of the casualty to improve their chance of survival
  • following instructions when calling 999
  • following the voice instructions given by a defib
  • ensuring that any first aid training is always compliant with the guidelines recommended by authoritative bodies such as the Resuscitation Council (UK) – (all of our courses are!)
  • keeping training up-to-date
  • keep all equipment (such as a defib) well maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.

The full guidance on this topic can be found here on the Resuscitation Council (UK)’s website.

Life Can Change in a Heartbeat Course Promotion PostersYou might also find our free editable and printable posters to help encourage people to become first aiders at work useful – here is the link.

If you have any questions, please contact us or post a comment below. We’ll be more than happy to help!

Richard - Founder & Course Originator

Richard is the Founder & CEO at SkillBase First Aid


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