Clinical paper| Volume 151, P99-102, June 2020

Risk and ROSC – Legal implications of bystander CPR



      Early bystander cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) has been associated with better patient outcomes in cardiac arrest. Despite this, not all cases of cardiac arrest receive bystander intervention. Reasons for this gap include disparities in provision of bystander CPR between race, gender and age groups. Concern of legal liability for responders has also been described. We propose that bystanders are more likely to face litigation for lack of intervention compared to providing bystander CPR due to the presence of ‘Good Samaritan’ statutes in all 50 states. This review of the legal literature seeks to quantify the number of cases brought against bystanders in the US over the past 30 years and explore the reasons behind them.


      The Westlaw legal research database was searched for jury verdicts, settlements, and appellate opinions from all 50 states from 1989 to 2019 for personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits involving CPR. Of 506 cases manually reviewed by the authors, 170 were directly related to CPR. Case details including jurisdiction, location, date, plaintiff and defendant demographics, level of training of CPR provider, relationship to patient, motivation for the lawsuit, and case outcomes were recorded.


      Our data show a significant difference in the number of cases of cases alleging battery versus negligence regarding provision of CPR. Of 170 cases, 167 were due to inadequate or untimely bystander CPR. Three cases alleging harm due to providing CPR were identified.


      This study represents the largest single study of legal cases involving bystander CPR in the medical literature. The likelihood of litigation is significantly higher in cases with bystander CPR absent or delayed. The authors propose the inclusion of this data and reiteration of ‘Good Samaritan’ statutes in all 50 states during CPR training to reassure and encourage public response to cardiac arrests.


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