Failing to provide bystander CPR legally riskier than performing the act

Bystanders of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests are more likely to face legal consequences for delaying or failing to provide CPR than for damages incurred during a resuscitation attempt, according to work that will be presented at the American Heart Association’s upcoming Scientific Sessions.

For the study, lead author Travis Murphy, MD, and colleagues reviewed 170 legal cases filed in the U.S. within the past 30 years. Every state in the country has “Good Samaritan” laws—legal protection for people who provide reasonable assistance to others they believe are in danger—but the authors said many people still question the legal liabilities of performing CPR on a stranger.

“The misgivings people express about being blamed for a bad outcome if they were to perform bystander CPR is essentially unfounded,” Murphy, an emergency medicine attending physician at the University of Florida in Gainesville, said in a release. “A person is much more likely to be taken to court for not providing CPR soon enough.”

Murphy et al.’s analysis of legal cases revealed that most cases involving CPR had to do with delayed or inadequate care as opposed to the act itself. Of 170 cases considered, 167 involved alleged negligence and just three were related to alleged battery.

Two of those three battery cases were ruled in favor of the defendant, or the party who performed CPR, Murphy said. Of the negligence cases, 74 were ruled in favor of the defendant.

Battery charges also resulted in fewer settlement costs—around $120,000 has been shelled out in damaged for performing CPR compared to $620 million in settlements or punitive damages for delays in CPR.

“We hope this information would encourage people trained in bystander CPR to use the skills they have learned and help save a life,” Murphy said.

Murphy’s team’s work is slated for presentation at the AHA’s Resuscitation Science Symposium, which will take place alongside the AHA’s Scientific Sessions Nov. 16 and 17 at the Philadelphia 201 Hotel in Philadelphia.