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During the Queen’s Speech, the government announced a new bill that will prevent people acting heroically from being sued if things go wrong.
The Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill, introduced in the Commons on 12 June, will also encourage courts to consider the social benefit of a heroic action when assessing claims.
Most people would agree with the underlying goal of the bill that everyday heroes should not have to fear prosecution. ‘Good Samaritans’ would be scarce if each act of kindness or altruism placed the individual or organisation at risk of litigation.
In reality the protections awarded by the bill are already covered by existing legislation.
According to Section 1 of the Compensation Act 2006, a court considering a claim may, in determining whether the defendant should have taken particular steps to meet a standard of care, have regard to whether a requirement to take those steps might either prevent a desirable activity from being undertaken at all or discourage persons from undertaking such actions.
Rather than awarding new protections, the new bill has been penned to target largely mythical claims that exist in the eyes of the press.
Even Lord Young, who drew up the report recommending a Good Samaritan law (PDF), admits to this myth being the legislation’s main target.
Myth-busting aside, the real danger is that the Bill could, if misdrafted and misinterpreted, become a Trojan horse to shield negligent employers and other bodies less deserving of protection from their liability to injured people.
Genuine victims who deserve compensation could face lengthy battles in court against employers, insurers and doctors seeking to escape liability for negligence. This could further line the pockets of insurers by preventing genuine claims.
Although genuine Samaritans are and should continue to be protected from fear of unnecessary and unwarranted claims, the government should be mindful of the potential unintended consequences of a Bill that could marginalise victims whilst getting employers and others who genuinely should have known better off the hook.
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