The Meaning of Certification
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is an important skill to have and one that fewer and fewer people seem to take the time to learn these days. In the end, it only takes a few hours to get basic CPR training either in a classroom or online setting. Others may choose to get certified, in part because they're interested in learning more and, in some cases, because it can enhance the chances of getting a job.
There are some who suggest that having CPR certification makes you more qualified to act in case of an emergency, and that may be true to a certain degree. But it shouldn't suggest that someone with basic CPR training is "less qualified" if faced with a potentially life-threatening situation. CPR Training and Certification enhances a person confidence in an emergency.
Purposes of Certification
People pursue CPR certification for many reasons, some personal and other professional. Whatever the reason, certification provides them a clearer understanding of what to do (and not to do) and a stronger sense of confidence in their skills.
Some of the key reasons why people seek certification:
Employment: CPR certifications can bolster your job resumé, particularly if seeking a position that requires interaction with the public or in which there is a potential for workplace injury (such as in a manufacturing plant, public transportation, or an amusement park). However, not any old certification will do. Most employers will require CPR certification Family health: CPR certification can literally be a lifesaver if someone in your family is at risk of cardiac arrest, respiratory arrest, or other potentially life-threatening conditions. Especially with things like cardiac arrest, where minutes can make the difference between life and death, refresher CPR courses can help ensure you act appropriately and fast.Proficiency: There can be no more terrifying situation than being in an emergency where no one knows what to do. To this end, CPR certification may allow you to step forward when others can't. Instead of trying to remember the skills that you learned back in high school, certification provides you with a level of training to jump in without hesitation.
CPR Without Certification
For all of its benefits, being certified in CPR does not mean you are "licensed" to act. It is simply a card or certificate indicating that you have completed a CPR course and met the requirements established by whichever organization you used.
To this end, it doesn't matter whether you have a CPR card or not if someone has drowned or experienced cardiac arrest. It doesn't provide you with additional protection from liability (more than Good Samaritan laws do) or suggests that you have the skills to stand in for an emergency medical technician (EMT). If you have been trained in CPR, with or without certification, you need to act.
Take, for example, cardiac arrest. With cardiac arrest, the heart will suddenly stop pumping and the victim will lose consciousness within 20 seconds. For every minute that passes without treatment, the risk of death rises by 7 percent to 10 percent. After five minutes, brain damage can occur. After 10 minutes of inaction, the chance of resuscitation is next to nil.
There is no way around it; if you don't do CPR, the victim will die. If you do CPR—even if it isn't perfect—there is a far better chance of survival. The choice is simple.
Barriers to CPR Training
Time is probably the main reason why people don't obtain CPR training, much less certification. Unless there is some incentive to attend a class, most people don't even think about CPR, figuring that others will know it.
But here's the bottom line: CPR classes take only around two to three hours to complete, and many are conducted free of charge through organizations like the Red Cross or YMCA. While less than ideal, you can even take a free online CPR course if you can't spare three hours in your week.
Others people shy away from CPR out of sheer squeamishness, mainly in response to things like mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
What many people fail to realize is that mouth-to-mouth is no longer a requirement for CPR and that chest compression is the focus of treatment until emergency medical services arrive.
Can You Be Sued for Performing CPR?
In some emergencies, you may feel the need to act immediately to save someone’s life. In such scenarios, what happens if you unintentionally harm the person you were trying to help? Good Samaritan laws exist to protect individuals who take it upon themselves to rush to the aid of others in need and help avoid CPR lawsuits.
CPR and Good Samaritan Laws
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a technique for reviving someone who has stopped breathing or whose heart has ceased beating. Since an unconscious person can’t ask for help, a well-intentioned passerby can help that person by performing CPR; laws protect them from any legal recourse on the grounds of implied consent. Good Samaritan laws exist to prevent those acting in good faith from facing legal liability for any inadvertent damage they cause.
To qualify under Good Samaritan laws, the Samaritan must render aid at the scene of the incident and for no other reason than the desire to help another person in need. Good Samaritan laws generally don’t apply to emergency responders who have specific training for emergencies and lifesaving techniques. So far, no one has sued a layperson successfully for performing CPR, and the general thought is that if you know CPR and see someone in need of it, you have an ethical responsibility to perform CPR and try to save that person’s life.
The only time you shouldn’t perform CPR is when an individual has a do not resuscitate wish. However, random bystanders attempting to save an unconscious stranger’s life probably have no idea about his or her thoughts on CPR, so they can’t face legal repercussions for saving the victim. DNR cases typically arise in medical centers or nursing homes, where patients may opt not to receive lifesaving intervention should they fall into cardiac arrest or stop breathing.
The only time you may face legal action for performing CPR is if you perform any unreasonable or grossly negligent actions during the attempt. Additionally, you can’t perform CPR in hope of reward or compensation for the act—you must render aid purely to help the other person.
What to Do if Someone Sues You | CPR Lawsuits
Anyone can sue anyone else for any reason at any time. However, that doesn’t mean every lawsuit will be successful. Remember that no layperson acting in good faith has ever successfully been sued for performing CPR. If you find yourself in a situation where your assistance could save another person’s life, you face very little risk in doing so. Remember to use the proper technique, and if you successfully revive the victim, stay with him or her until emergency responders arrive.
In the rare event that someone sues you, retain the legal services of an experienced lawyer to help you navigate your case. There’s no good reason that any person acting in good faith with the intention of saving a life should be legally liable for his or her actions.
Good Samaritan laws exist to protect individuals who are willing to go to another person’s aid for no reason other than to help the victim. As long as you render aid at the scene of the emergency, utilize the proper technique, engage in no negligent or unreasonable behavior, and act purely out of good faith, there’s no reason you should have to deal with a lawsuit.
What's In Those Good Samaritan Laws, Exactly?
If you’re uneasy about the idea of being called upon to give CPR in an emergency situation, your worries are not entirely unfounded. There are things to worry about—including the fear of getting sued. The truth is, in our litigation-happy society, you can be sued for anything. The question is: will you win?
If you are delivering CPR in an emergency situation, it’s most likely you are protected by the law. That’s because all states have Good Samaritan laws that are designed to protect people who give CPR and other emergency help in good faith without the threat of a lawsuit.
However, no Good Samaritan law is airtight—and it’s a good idea to know what they say. Here’s an overview—with the caveat that we’re not lawyers and this article is not intended to be taken as legal advice, as well as the fact that Good Samaritan law can change at any time.
Good Samaritan laws vary by state
In general, you can never know the exact specifics about Good Samaritan laws applicable to you unless you do some research on the law in your state. Each Good Samaritan law varies on a state-by-state basis. While most are similar, there are a few significant differences. The following generalities, however, apply to the law in most states.
You need to be acting out of a selfless impulse
Simply put, Good Samaritan laws are there to protect people who selflessly jump in to help—without the expectation of a reward or accolades. They generally do not apply to paid medical or emergency rescue staff, as these people are getting paid for their services—not, from a legal standpoint at least, acting only out of the goodness of their hearts.
In some states, Good Samaritan protections may be revoked if you rescue someone and receive monetary reward for it—even if you received the reward after you provided the help and with no expectation of reward. The laws on this vary by state, but if you want to raise your chances of staying out of court or winning if you get dragged in, it’s best to refuse any and all monetary or other types of rewards for a rescue.
You may or may not need to have CPR certification
In some states, the only people covered by Good Samaritan protections are medically trained—including people with CPR certification. In other cases, Good Samaritan laws—or specific parts of them—are meant to apply only to people without medical training. In other states, everyone is covered by these laws.
Some states are more committed than others to encouraging bystander response to emergencies, which has been shown to boost survival rates for victims of cardiac arrest—even if the rescuer is not well trained and the CPR technique is not perfect, it is still better than nothing. This is not the case everywhere, however, and it’s always best to keep your CPR training up to date.
You do not have to be covered under Good Samaritan law to win a case
Depending on your state, the Good Samaritan laws may act to keep you out of court entirely—or make it easier for you to win in court. However, just because your actions weren’t covered under Good Samaritan law doesn’t necessarily mean you did the wrong thing—or that you won’t prevail in court.
You are not covered for something you are egregiously under-trained for
This is a bit fuzzy to define—and specific rules vary by state. However, while you may be covered under the Good Samaritan law for CPR you deliver even if you do not have current CPR certification, you most likely will not be covered if your actions are more extreme—for example, if you try to give a patient an improvised tracheotomy with nothing but a pocket knife and a ballpoint pen, and you are not a trained surgeon.
Most of the time, you do not have to provide CPR—even if you are certified
Some people stay away from CPR certification because they worry that they might be sued for not providing CPR if they have the training. But in actuality, you cannot be sued for failing to provide CPR in 49 states. In these states, it is your decision whether or not to provide CPR.
There is usually an exception for those in the profession, such as ambulance staff, EMT’s, doctors and nurses, firefighters, law enforcement officers, and others who have what the law defines as a “duty to act.” People who fall under this category are often required to provide CPR aid to people in the vicinity who need it, or to stop on highways and in other areas where there has been an accident to see if someone might need help.
In Vermont, everyone is required to provide what the law defines as “reasonable assistance” to someone in danger as long as it does not result in the rescuer putting themselves in physical danger, unless there is someone else providing that assistance. Those who are found to have stood by without helping someone in an emergency situation will be fined up to $100.
You need consent to provide CPR—but there’s a loophole
To legally provide CPR or other care, you need the patient to tell you it’s okay—technically. The loophole is that if the patient is impaired, they cannot legally give consent. And in cases where CPR is needed and every minute counts—chances are the victim will be unconscious or otherwise impaired during this time—rescuers are expected to assume consent rather than waiting for it to be given. Better to save a life now and ask permission later than to let someone die because they could not give consent.
You can never guarantee your actions will be protected by the Good Samaritan law. However, in most cases, if you are following your training and clearly acting in the best interests of the patient, the law will be on your side. In order to stay out of court, your best bet is to keep your CPR certification current, know the law in your state, refuse any reward for an act of rescue, and follow your training to the best of your ability in an emergency situation.