May 7, 2019

Cassidy, King, Colleagues Reintroduce Bill to Protect Disaster Relief Volunteers

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, MD (R-LA), Angus King (I-ME), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Joe Manchin (D-WV), today reintroduced the Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act to provide medical professionals with a limited, but consistent, level of legal protection while volunteering during federally-declared disasters.

The Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 sought to protect those volunteering through non-profit agencies or government entities from litigation over possible economic damages they may cause while volunteering. However, this act fails to protect persons who volunteer independently of a formally recognized organization, or that cross state lines to volunteer. The combination of federal and state efforts to protect and encourage volunteering, specifically by health care professionals, can be unclear and insufficient in the event of a large-scale disaster. This bill only applies to licensed medical providers and will not protect against litigation if the damage was done in a deliberate or criminal manner.

“Volunteers are crucial to help families begin recovery after disaster. Following Hurricane Katrina, medical professionals from across the U.S. came to Louisiana to help,” said Dr. Cassidy. “The Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act provides medical professionals with needed legal protections while aiding disaster victims. 

“When the worst circumstances strike our neighbors, we see the best of America as volunteers come from every corner of the country to lend a hand to those in need,” said Senator King. “In the face of wildfires and floods, in the aftermath of tornados and hurricanes, these volunteers work around the clock to save lives and rebuild communities. Among these Good Samaritans are medical professionals who use their expertise to provide timely and much-needed care. Their service is a reflection of the American spirit that should be lifted up, not discouraged. This legislation rightly recognizes the contributions of these professionals and provides legal protections so they can focus on what matters in the moment: saving lives.”

“In the wake of natural disasters, medical professionals have stepped up to the plate to provide much needed care to victims,” said Senator Blackburn.“We must protect these volunteers from frivolous legal action that could deter their participation.”

“Red tape should not prohibit volunteers from volunteering in times of great need,” said Senator Cramer. “During natural disasters, many capable medical professionals are needed to assist in recovery efforts but are often inhibited by the potential for litigation because of ambiguous or insufficient legal protection. The Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act helps those who want to help others by giving them clear and consistent guidelines.” 

“Last November, Alaska experienced one of the highest magnitude earthquakes our state has seen in decades. That earthquake reminds us of the importance of disaster preparation and the reality of what can happen when a disaster strikes,” said Senator Murkowski. “We’ve seen time and time again that when a disaster happens, Good Samaritans step into action to help those in need. It’s important that we remove barriers for these physicians who meet a crucial need by volunteering their time and risking their lives as first responders to catastrophic events around the country. By protecting medical professionals in federal law who come from far and wide to provide desperately needed care, we are reaffirming the important role these volunteers play in responding to disasters.”

“In June 2016, we suffered terrible flooding in West Virginia, not only were homes and properties destroyed but so many West Virginians were injured and in need of medical care. Luckily, medical professionals stepped up out of the goodness of their heart and provided their expertise to help their fellow West Virginians in need. I firmly believe that no doctor or medical professional should have to worry about getting sued, when they acted in good faith,” said Senator Manchin.“I am proud to co-sponsor this bipartisan bill to extend protections to these Good Samaritans in West Virginia and around the country.”