In the past, there were no national laws in China protecting Good Samaritans, hence, many people, in the attempt of rescuing someone, were eventually held to be financially liable to the victim’s family. This lack of protection has led to the loss of countless lives as people have refused to help others for fear of losing money.
For instance, on November 20th, 2006, an old woman had fallen to the ground and broke her leg after jostling at a bus stop in Nanjing, a young man then helped her up and escorted her to the hospital. The woman and her family later dragged the man to court, which then ruled that he should pay 40 percent of her medical costs.
The court stated that the decision was reached by effective reasoning, and “according to common sense” it was highly possible that the defendant had bumped into the old woman, given that he was the first person to get off the bus when the old woman was pushed down in front of the bus door and, “according to what one would normally do in this case”, the young man would have left soon after sending the woman to the hospital instead of staying there for the surgical examination results.
After many other cases such as the one mentioned above, China has enacted the Good Samaritan Law by stating the principle under which “a person who causes harm to any recipient in volunteering to provide emergency assistance shall not bear civil liability” (Article 184 of General Rules of the Civil Law of the People’s Republic of China, promulgated by the National People’s Congress on 15th March 2017, effective from 1st October 2017).
The introduction of such a rule is of utmost importance, as it shifts the burden of proof from the defendant to the plaintiff, who will have to provide evidence of both the damage suffered and of the causal link between such damage and the rescuer’s behavior. This means that the victim will have to think twice about suing the rescuer, having to prove that this person caused harm to his/her health.
Notwithstanding that, there are still some loopholes in the system. More specifically, the main concern regarding the events where the rescuer, with his/her intervention, causes serious harm to the victim due to his/her lack of knowledge in regards to medical treatments. Hence, it will be crucial to see how the Chinese Courts will settle these kinds of disputes in the future, hoping for the development of a new practice according to which the assistance of people in need is encouraged, but balanced by the victim’s rights to health, safety and life.