Today’s question relates to the use of third parties – fire brigades or good Samaritan volunteers – to respond to triple zero ambulance calls.  I am told:

This came up from a thread on twitter where there was a discussion around which ambulance services will send other agencies as first responders to emergency calls, particularly to cardiac arrest calls. This then extended my thinking to ambulance services using apps like GoodSAM to send members of the public to a cardiac arrest prior to ambulance arrival. Obviously in terms of getting hands on a chest to do chest compressions and ideally a defibrillator attached to the patient before an ambulance responder can arrive this is excellent, but there’s a few issues that come to mind I’d be interested in your thoughts on.

1. Consent of patients/families.

Presumably by calling 000 and asking for an ambulance to attend are providing consent for the ambulance service to enter their home and provide care to their family member. Does this extend to other responders the ambulance service may send? Could a member of the fire brigade, or a member of the public who receives a notification using the app, be trespassing by going into someone’s home to render assistance?

2. “Good Samaritan” provisions

If a member of the public responds to something having received a notification using the app, are they covered by the same protection if something goes wrong as they would be if they rendered assistance to someone who collapsed in the street? The difference being they’ve been “sent” by the ambulance service as opposed to coming across an emergency while going about their day?

3. Injuries to first responders

If a first responder was to be injured while attempting to render assistance, either physically or psychologically; would the ambulance service be liable for that injury in the same way as they would be for one of their paramedics seeing as they were “sent” by the service?

There’s probably other issues I haven’t thought of yet either. It’s a great idea and the services that do it seem to be having good result with stories like this: – these were just the questions in the back of my mind reading them that I’d be interested in your thoughts on.

I’ll deal with each question in turn.

1. Consent of patients/families.

Calling triple zero and asking for an ambulance to attend may be an implied consent to enter but it can be withdrawn.  People can refuse to let the paramedics in if that is what they want to. Paramedics, or police, would then need to find legal authority to enter if they believed there was someone at risk in the home (see The doctrine of necessity – Explained (January 31, 2017) and the discussion under the heading ‘Tort’).

In 2008 the High Court of Australia (Kuru v State of New South Wales (2008) 236 CLR 1, [2008] HCA 26, [40] (Gleeson CJ, Gummow, Kirby And Hayne JJ) said:

The common law has long recognised that any person may justify what would otherwise constitute a trespass to land in cases of necessity to preserve life or property. The actions of fire fighters, police and ambulance officers will often invoke application of that principle.

A fire brigade may also have statutory authority to enter (see for example QFES forcing entry before QAS arrival (November 10, 2022)).  

A person responding to a good sam app call (see Crowd sourcing first aid (August 12, 2014)) would want to be very sure that their attendance was required and that they could safely enter the premises before going in.  Certainly, in the face of objection – ie someone saying ‘no you cannot come in’ they would be wise to not force the point.

But, any responder who has been given notification of an emergency will commit no trespass if they believe:

… in good faith and upon grounds which are objectively reasonable that it is necessary to do so in order (1) to preserve human life, or (2) to prevent serious physical harm arising to the person of another, or (3) to render assistance to another after that other has suffered serious physical harm (Dehn v Attorney General [1988] 2 NZLR 564, 580 (Tipping J)).

2. “Good Samaritan” provisions

A member of the public who signs up to the Good Sam app or equivalent is not therefore duty bound to attend (see Crowd sourcing first aid (August 12, 2014)).  They remain a ‘good Samaritan’.  To use the NSW definition (Civil Liability Act 2002 (NSW) s 56) they remain a ‘person who, in good faith and without expectation of payment or other reward, comes to the assistance of a person who is apparently injured or at risk of being injured’.

The responder has not been sent by the ambulance service in the way, for example an SES or RFS community first responder is despatched. Rather they are notified of the emergency but it is up to them whether they respond or not.  That is no different than being in a shop and someone saying, ‘help’.  The fact that the ‘someone’, in the case of the Good Sam app, is the ambulance service does not change the responder’s options to go, or not go.

3. Injuries to first responders

No, the responder is not an employee so the ambulance service would not be ‘liable for that injury in the same way as they would be for one of their paramedics’ because employed paramedics are entitled to Workers Compensation.  In NSW a person may be able to argue that they are entitled to compensation under the Workers Compensation (Bush fire, Emergency and Rescue Services) Act 1987 (NSW) if he or she can convince i-care that they are ’ a person who, in the opinion of the Self Insurance Corporation having regard to all the circumstances, should be deemed to be an emergency service worker …’ (s 23). 

Also in NSW a person who ‘(without remuneration or reward) voluntarily and without obligation engages in any ambulance work with the consent of or under the authority and supervision of or in co-operation with the Health Administration Corporation…’ is deemed to be an employee of NSW Health and entitled to workers compensation (Workplace Injury Management And Workers Compensation Act 1998 (NSW) Sch 1 cl 16).  A good Sam app volunteer may be able to argue this applies to them as they are working in ‘cooperation’ with NSW Health. Deemed employment by NSW Ambulance was discussed in the post Refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer to the question: ‘Are St John (NSW) volunteers deemed employees of NSW Ambulance?’ (March 27, 2020). A St John volunteer on duty is called to assist directly, not by NSW Ambulance. This is different to a good Sam App volunteer so the person who responds to a good Sam call would have a stronger case even though they are not an appointed honorary ambulance officer (Health Services Act 1997 (NSW) s 67H).

Whether any other state ambulance service would be obligated to compensate a good Samaritan volunteer would depend on any agreement that was entered into when the person ‘signed up’, legislation relating to volunteer ambulance officers and whether they would fall within that definition, or whether there was negligence by the ambulance service. Negligence could arise for example if the call was to a house that was flagged on the ambulance CAD as being dangerous and where paramedics were asked to wait for police but that information was not passed to the volunteer.

Everything does depend on context, but as a general principle no the ambulance service would not be ‘liable any injury in the same way as they would be if an employee was injured.

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This blog is made possible with generous financial support from the Australasian College of Paramedicine, the Australian Paramedics Association (NSW), Natural Hazards Research Australia, NSW Rural Fire Service Association and the NSW SES Volunteers Association. I am responsible for the content in this post including any errors or omissions. Any opinions expressed are mine, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or understanding of the donors.