Bad Samaritan, Good Prepper – When Society Strikes Back

Editor’s Note: This is another guest post by Tom Haluszczak.  Tom is a lawyer.  In this post, he shares with us what could possibly happen if society breaks down, things get bad, but then eventually come back.  Will there be a legal system in place?  And if there is a working legal system, will our litigous happy society pick up where they left off?  You can sue anyone for anything.  Will that continue after a collapse?

As you read, remember each state has variations of laws.  On top of everything that preppers consider, this might be something you and your group should spend a little time talking about.  It shouldn’t keep you from doing the right thing, just doing it right.

One of my favorite scripture verses is Luke 10:25 (KJV) – The Good Samaritan.

A man goes down to Jericho and on the way is attacked by highwaymen.  He is left barely alive, his bleeding body crumbled on the side of the road.  A Priest passes him by.  This is significant – because a Priest was a “man of the law” (sometimes Priests were even referred to as “Lawyers”, who merited the “woe unto you, Lawyers” comment from Jesus because they “laden people with burdens grievous to be borne”).  This Priest knew God’s word – and yet turned his back on the injured man.

Similarly, a Levite – the traditional class of Priests in ancient Hebrew society (Moses’ brother Aaron was a Levite) also presumably knowledgeable in the “Law” of God – likewise saw the injured man and turned away from him.

But a Samaritan – a lower class of people generally scorned in the Old Testament – took pity on the broken man.  He bound his wounds, took him to an Inn and left money with the innkeeper for food and care.

Jesus asks us:  who was righteous in the eyes of God?

Preppers are hearty types who revel in their independence and resourcefulness.  They vow to be ready when “the” event strikes – war, climate change, economic collapse.

But what happens if the breakdown is temporary – of an enduring, albeit limited duration – and “society” returns? The norms, rules and laws that apply now will be reinstituted.  The period of travail through which Preppers struggled and weathered because of their pluck and foresight will be history.

What happens when an overbearing, law-obsessed society returns with a vengeance?

I can imagine a sick, starving man showing up at a Prepper’s doorstep after days of eating rats, begging for food.  The Prepper generously shares with him home-canned meat and other home preserved items.  After the danger passes – and “society” returns – the Prepper get served with legal papers.  The beggar now asserts that the home-canned victuals gave him botulism and he is paralyzed because of nerve damage.  He sues the kind Prepper in civil court for money damages.  He may win.

Most of the United States legal system grows out of the British Common Law.  Even Louisiana law – based on the Code Napoleon’ and Justinian’s Code (of Rome) – is heavily influenced by Common Law precedents recognized throughout the United States.

At Common Law, a man generally had no duty to rescue a stranger from a dangerous condition. If he was walking down a country lane and saw someone drowning in a lake, he had no duty to reach for a rope lying next to the shoreline and throw it to the hapless victim.  He could continue his walk with no liability whatsoever for what was surely going to happen – the stranger’s death by drowning.  Of course, if the drowning man was his son or brother, Common Law would impose a duty to at least attempt rescue.  Absent a familial or other relationship, however, the pedestrian did not have to get involved.  If the pedestrian was not a “Peace Officer” or other duly constituted authority he had no duty to come to the drowning strangers’ aid.

What if the pedestrian threw the drowning man the rope anyway?

The law is simpleIf you do something – you’d better do it right.

 Consider this outcome:  the drowning man catches the rope and the pedestrian pulls him towards shore.  As the drowning man is being dragged back, however, he is buffeted by currents and gouges his eyes out on sharp rocks.  He reaches the shoreline bleeding out of both eye sockets and from that moment forward is blind as a bat.

Is the pedestrian responsible?  Yes.  Is the pedestrian liable (ie. subject to pay money damages for the consequences of his alleged negligent conduct)?   Definitely.  Check your local laws – but the Common Law standard probably applies. “Good Samaritan” Laws passed in many states usually only relieve Doctors, Emergency Personnel, Fireman and Police from liability when they arrive on an accident scene.

I’ve reviewed the Good Samaritan statutes of each state:  the vast majority award immunity from civil prosecution for money damages to medically-trained first responders rendering aid to victims at the scene of an accident.  The statutes speak in terms of victims “injured” as result of some specific natural or accidental event.  Even the broadest statutes only protect untrained persons who render emergency care at medical emergencies in a prudent way.

Good Samaritan statutes are primarily drafted to protect trained medical responders at scenes of accidents – not good-hearted Preppers struggling through SHTF breakdowns of society wherein the social and governmental infrastructure have been shredded to pieces.  These statutes do not change the basic Common Law premise that a man is under no duty to render aid to anyone – unless he enjoys some official capacity or is some relation to the victim.

If you – a layperson – touch an injured man on the side of the road, in most states you are not entitled to the protection of a Good Samaritan law unless you are a licensed first responder.  At best, you might be able to make an argument at trial (when you are sued for causing or aggravating personal injuries or sexual assault) that a Good Samaritan analysis should apply to your case because you acted in good faith and you are a nice guy.  Good luck with that.  These statutes generally protect only first responders and medical personnel – not laypersons. You don’t want to be defending bogus lawsuits for money damages in any court where Good Samaritan immunity doesn’t clearly apply.  Regardless how “unique” you think your particular circumstances are, a court might not agree with you.  You’re at their mercy.

Your interpretation of what constitutes a “Good Samaritan” is irrelevant as a legal matter. 

“Good Samaritan” is defined by statute – not common parlance or your personal zeitgeist.  A “Nice Guy” defense is no defense at all.  A good lawyer will chew you up.  The following LINK will take you to a website wherein Good Samaritan statutes throughout the USA are summarized.

Whatever you do – do it right.  That’s a tough standard.  When society comes rip-roaring back and government – goons start poking their noses into what went on during the great unpleasantness that was yesterday’s anarchy, you’d better have a way to cover your behind.

A few suggestions:

  • Help those in your community who you know and trust;
  • If someone is in extremis, of course follow God’s laws and get him or her out of harm’s way.  You have to live with yourself.  Get witnesses that can testify to your good works at the moment in case something goes wrong.  If the victim dies, you’ll need some backup to show that you did everything you could.  Hopefully, a civil or criminal Jury will believe your witnesses and understand the predicament you were in.  Greedy lawyers may try to sue – but honest witnesses generally trump such treachery.
  • Temper your religious and ethical imperatives with the rule of reason.  In times of chaos and total breakdown of law and order, survival of you and yours will be the priority.  You won’t be able to save everybody – especially those who are intent on doing you harm.  You’re going to have to make hard choices:  to carefully pick and choose who gets your help and who doesn’t.  God’s grace is the only tool you may have.  Prayer and a stout heart will be needed.
  • Convene a meeting of your “group” to weigh-in on decisions that may come back to haunt you in “better” times.  Keep minutes so you know who said what to whom and what the outcome was.  Juries tend to regard spontaneous records of events as persuasive evidence.  If your object is to show that a careful, deliberative process was employed – free of arbitrariness, passion or prejudice – records involving decisions about allocation of resources and medical supplies or treatment may be critical in establishing a defense at a later time that you acted reasonably under the circumstances.
  • Keep a log of who you helped, what you did (share food, medicine, etc.) and the outcome.  Include their name, condition and type of aid requested.  Document the would-be recipient’s physical symptoms and visual indicators of illness, mental and otherwise.  Note any dissenting votes.  Have other members of your community sign the log in case you need their back-up testimony.  A “community diary” or journal of this type can come in handy if questions are asked later on.
  • If you have a lawyer in your group, have him or her prepare a general Release form and make strangers seeking aid sign it.  While the other party may scream “duress!” later on – it can’t hurt to have something on hand that documented everybody was making decisions with their eyes wide open.

In conclusion, when the lights come back on and “civilization” (such as we know it) returns, vultures are going to circle with a vengeance.  Members of my much-deservedly maligned profession will beat the bushes searching for ways to sue and make money.

Even in times of breakdown, good common sense and an eye towards defending one’s self against possible legal action is always a good idea.  Remember – the only organisms that survive nuclear fallout are cockroaches.  And, truth be told, a goodly number of lawyers (and other professionals) I’ve done battle with throughout my career are undeniably offspring of that gene pool.

Tom Haluszczak Jr.

Vlchek1 [at] gmail [dot] com

Tom is a native of New Jersey and the author of American Jihad, a fictional novel, but all to real, of collapse.

This article first appeared on Ed That Matters.

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8 thoughts on “Bad Samaritan, Good Prepper – When Society Strikes Back

  1. Lucifer's Taxi

    Did you know- that scientists are considering replacing Norwegian Brown Rats with lawyers, for laboratory experiments? Their reasons are threefold:
    1. Lawyers are not as scarce as rats.
    2. Lab technicians don’t get so attached to lawyers.
    3. There are some things that a rat would not do.

  2. Purr Plexed

    Thanks for the heads up Tom. I would have to follow my conscience and help, even with the risks. Even so, your advise does offer some means of protection.

  3. Larry

    2012 Minnesota

    Subdivision 1.Duty to assist.

    A person at the scene of an emergency who knows that another person is exposed to or has suffered grave physical harm shall, to the extent that the person can do so without danger or peril to self or others, give reasonable assistance to the exposed person. Reasonable assistance may include obtaining or attempting to obtain aid from law enforcement or medical personnel. A person who violates this subdivision is guilty of a petty misdemeanor.
    Subd. 2.General immunity from liability.

    (a) A person who, without compensation or the expectation of compensation, renders emergency care, advice, or assistance at the scene of an emergency or during transit to a location where professional medical care can be rendered, is not liable for any civil damages as a result of acts or omissions by that person in rendering the emergency care, advice, or assistance, unless the person acts in a willful and wanton or reckless manner in providing the care, advice, or assistance. This subdivision does not apply to a person rendering emergency care, advice, or assistance during the course of regular employment, and receiving compensation or expecting to receive compensation for rendering the care, advice, or assistance.

    (b) For the purposes of this section, the scene of an emergency is an area outside the confines of a hospital or other institution that has hospital facilities, or an office of a person licensed to practice one or more of the healing arts under chapter 147, 147A, 148, 150A, or 153. The scene of an emergency includes areas threatened by or exposed to spillage, seepage, fire, explosion, or other release of hazardous materials, and includes ski areas and trails.

    (c) For the purposes of this section, “person” includes a public or private nonprofit volunteer firefighter, volunteer police officer, volunteer ambulance attendant, volunteer first provider of emergency medical services, volunteer ski patroller, and any partnership, corporation, association, or other entity.

    (d) For the purposes of this section, “compensation” does not include payments, reimbursement for expenses, or pension benefits paid to members of volunteer organizations.

    (e) For purposes of this section, “emergency care” includes providing emergency medical care by using or providing an automatic external defibrillator, unless the person on whom the device is to be used objects; or unless the person is rendering this care during the course of regular employment, the person is receiving or expects to receive compensation for rendering this care, and the usual and regular duties of the person include the provision of emergency medical care. “Automatic external defibrillator” means a medical device heart monitor and defibrillator that:

    (1) has received approval of its premarket notification, filed pursuant to United States Code, title 21, section 360(k), from the United States Food and Drug Administration;

    (2) is capable of recognizing the presence or absence of ventricular fibrillation or rapid ventricular tachycardia, and is capable of determining, without intervention by an operator, whether defibrillation should be performed; and

    (3) upon determining that defibrillation should be performed, automatically charges and requests delivery of an electrical impulse to an individual’s heart.

  4. Tom Haluszczak Jr

    Larry: Thanks for laying out the Minnesota statute – clearly the most anomalous and least transparent of the group. Minn. apparently sets a requirement that a layperson who can do something in an emergency has a duty to. This is a statutory change of the Common Law rule. If a person doesn’t do something, however, the penalty is a petty misdemeanor – a glorified traffic ticket. Why would a legistlature establish such a duty and then make the penalty so laughable? It’s probably because (my opinion) that they wanted to people to be liable in tort for failures to act – ie. they established a statutory duty of care so that people who didn’t measure up had to defend lawsuits and get lawyers. This statute virtually guarantees that a layperson who fails to do something in an emergency (whether they question their own qualifications or not) a) gets a petty misdemeanor fine / slap on the wrists, and b) will get sued in civil court for money damages because they’ve already been adjudicated as breaching their “duty” to act in the misdemeanor criminal case. This statute is a “full employment for lawyers” dream. As I said – there is no “get out of jail free” Good Samaritan Law that will slam-dunk protect a layperson in an emergency without Court appearances and having to get a lawyer. There’s no statute that says: if you’re a nice guy, you are held-harmless. Tom H.

  5. Stefan

    Hi Tom,

    I think your suggestion is a bit confused although I appreciate the effort. First let’s clear up the confused Samaritan story from Luke.

    The Samaritans were originally Pagan Idol worshipers who believed their hard times were the result of their false gods being unhappy with them. (That’s the nutshell version)

    The Jews tried to convert the Samaritans by teaching them Judaism via the books of Moses. This ended up half baked as the Samaritans took the teachings of the Jewish religion and continued to mix it with paganism false god worship.

    Naturally, this created hostilities between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Jews hated the Samaritans and the Samaritans hated the Jews. Then about 1500 years later comes Jesus. This is a time when the Jews consider the Samaritans to be the lowest form of human on Earth.

    The point of Jesus story, and that is all it was, was a story, was to emphasize that our Heavenly Father is not impressed with position, power, or prestige. He chose the lowly Samaritan to demonstrate it is what is in your heart that is important to our Father.

    The remainder of your warning is based on legal fear. Helping anyone should not be based on fear. Awareness of adverse reactions later is fine, but we should never base our actions on fear. Fear is the problem with today’s world.

    So tonight, when you are all alone in your bed, talk to your heavenly father and ask for guidance on what is troubling you. I guarantee, you will have a fresh perspective and you will know you are thinking correctly because you will feel it in your heart.

    1. Todd Post author


      I think you two are looking at it from two different perspectives. Tom is looking at it as “help a fellow human in need.” You are looking at it from a spiritual one. Jesus tells the story in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor.”

      I appreciate Tom’s view because it asserts that preppers will help. I often read about other’s views in the preparedness community that you should only take care of your own…or those in your group.

      I also think that there is nothing wrong with a little discernment. God has given us the awesome ability to think for ourselves, learn and apply what we have learned. Knowing which questions to ask and how to document is important – nowadays (I’ll have a post on my views later).


  6. The Gray Man

    Subsection (c) defines who is considered a “Person” under the statute. It’s a pretty narrow definition. It’s also a painfully clear example of how what is “legal” has no bearing on what is “right”. That divergence between the legal and the right should cause everyone’s blood to run a little cold.

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