Protection of First Aid Providers in International and Armenian Legislation

The World Health Organization (WHO) encourages all countries around the world to establish by law the principle of exemption from legal liability for first aid providers in cases of harm to life or health. The introduction of this principle into Armenian legislation serves as an important motivating factor for the provision of first aid.

The legislation of most developed countries, both with Anglo-Saxon and Roman-German legal systems, contains legal norms that exempt persons from legal liability in case of harm to life or health of the victim, but under a number of conditions, which are established in the legislation of different countries.

These norms are issued in order to encourage the public to provide full assistance to victims.

First of all, let us consider this issue at the level of international law, in particular, from the Anglo-Saxon legal system we will focus on the United States and Australia, and from the Roman-Germanic – Germany and Austria.

So, in the U.S. Common Law does not establish the obligation for citizens to provide first aid. Citizens solely on a voluntary basis provide assistance to injured persons.

Only in certain cases are persons legally liable for failure to provide first aid to an injured person.

In the case where the victim and the eyewitness are in a special relationship. For example, if there is an accident at work, the employer has a duty to assist his employee.

The law imposes a duty on a person to provide first aid if that person has, through his or her act, created such a situation that another person has been put in a dangerous condition. As an example, let’s take the driver of a car who managed to run over a pedestrian.

In addition, some citizens by virtue of their profession are obliged to provide first aid. This applies to police officers, medical personnel, and firefighters, among others.

In the United States, there is the Good Samaritan Act, which is designed to protect individuals from legal liability for damages resulting from an emergency situation where a person was not in fact required to provide first aid, but volunteered to do so.

As far as Australia is concerned, all states have adopted some form of rule affirming the “good samaritan” principle.

Under the Australian Civil Causes of Injury Act, a person who has caused injury to the life/health of a victim as a result of first aid is exempt from liability provided that he has acted, firstly, with integrity and, secondly, without gross negligence.

Germany and Austria belong to the Romano-Germanic legal family, and therefore their legislation contains a legal norm on “extreme necessity”, which aims to protect persons from legal liability in case of unintentional infliction of harm to life or health in the process of rendering first aid.

Now let us dwell on the legislation of the Republic of Armenia.

In the Republic of Armenia, the Armenian legislator does not directly enshrine norms of exemption of a person from legal liability in case of harm to life and health in the process of rendering first aid. At the same time, the criminal legislation of the Republic of Armenia contains such elements of crimes, as causing death, serious and moderate harm to the health of the victim by negligence.

Due to the fact that everyone is afraid of lawsuits that may be initiated by the victim or his family members, often potential first aiders do not provide it, because no one wants to be held legally liable in the case of unintentional harm to the life or health of the victim. This circumstance is one of the reasons why potential participants rarely provide first aid to the victims of traffic accidents in the Republic of Armenia.

The Armenian law is also aware of the notion of absolute necessity. And the norms of Article 44 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Armenia, which enshrine the extreme necessity as a circumstance precluding criminality of an act, are similar to the norms of extreme necessity in the aforementioned German and Austrian C According to Article 44(1) of the RA Criminal Code, it is not a crime to cause harm to the interests protected by criminal law in a state of extreme necessity, if this danger could not be eliminated by other means and at the same time the limits of extreme necessity were not allowed to be exceeded.

The actions of a person who has provided first aid must meet certain characteristics, so that they can be recognized as lawful, and not socially dangerous. In other words, when analyzing the signs of actions, it must be obvious that under the influence of prevailing circumstances, the person had to provide first aid to the victim, i.e. it must be obvious that the person acted out of good motives.

The Armenian legislator includes the following to the signs of legitimacy of the action:

  • Motive (purpose)
  • Object of causing harm, i.e. what the action is aimed at
  • Timeliness of infliction of harm
  • Limits of infliction of harm.

It should be noted that only a general subject can act as a subject of extreme necessity. By a general subject we mean a person on whom the law does not impose a duty to combat the danger.

The subject of extreme necessity may be even an eyewitness, who quite accidentally involuntarily got to the place of manifestation of danger.

The Armenian legislator has not defined the motive of actions, despite the fact that its establishment is of utmost importance, since the motive allows to assess the legitimacy of actions in conjunction with other circumstances.

The motive allows determining the purpose of the actions of the person and if the purpose of the person is the elimination of danger, then the person is in no way innocent of what happened. For example, if an eyewitness sees a danger to the life of the victim as a result of an accident, he or she may, out of a sense of compassion, take possession of someone else’s vehicle in order to take the injured person to the doctor.

Based on this, we can conclude that causing harm to the life or health of the victim by negligence (unintentional!) in the process of providing first aid by potential participants, according to the Criminal Code of the Republic of Armenia, is not a crime and is not punishable.

The norm of extreme necessity established by the Armenian legislator is designed to promote social activism in Armenian society and to ensure the protection of citizens within the law on the issue of first aid to victims without fear of subsequent prosecution on the territory of the Republic of Armenia.

However, there is an information gap in Armenia regarding the norm in question and, therefore, the Armenian population is not informed that the norm of extreme necessity also applies to cases of harm caused by potential participants in the process of providing first aid to victims. Even the medical aid personnel of the Republic of Armenia are minimally informed about this.

In order to eliminate this information gap, it is necessary to include explanations in the commentaries to the Criminal Code regarding the possibility of applying the norms of absolute necessity to first aid and to widely inform the Armenian society about it.

Otherwise, a person may have two minds as to whether or not to provide first aid to an injured person. Most citizens, out of fear of being held legally liable in the future, prefer to stand aside and not provide assistance to the victim. Unfortunately, this logic does not stand the test of practice in Armenia. For the Armenian people, helping a person in distress is the basic principle of cultural and historical origins in entering into any legal relations.

While examining the norm of absolute necessity we should also refer to the Civil Code of the Republic of Armenia.

According to the current Civil Code of the Republic of Armenia, at present the person, who has caused harm to life or health during the first aid to the victim, may be held civilly responsible.

When the RA judicial body considers the case, it is necessary to take into account all the circumstances in which the harm was caused. Taking into account the circumstances under consideration, the RA court may either impose an obligation to compensate the harm on the third person, in the interests of whom the person who caused the harm acted, or relieve from compensation of harm in full or in part both the third person and the person who caused the harm.  That is why it is so important to provide the RA judicial body with the necessary package of documents and base of evidence regarding the case under consideration.riminal Codes.