Good Samaritans count cost of rushing to rescue

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 September, 2011, 12:00am


Guidelines issued this week by the Ministry of Health for providing first aid to elderly people have added fuel to an online debate triggered by several cases of people being sued for trying to help those in distress.

On Tuesday, the ministry recommended that people should 'not rush to help up elderly who had fallen down' but instead handle the situation 'according to different scenarios'. If the person was suffering from a severe headache or had difficultly speaking, it could mean he or she had a stroke. Helping such a person back on to his or her feet might accelerate cerebral haemorrhaging or reduce blood flow to the brain, according to the guidelines.

The suggestions outline steps that should be taken when, for example, a child has been hurt in a road accident, and follow a case in November 2006 in which a 65-year-old woman in Nanjing, Jiangsu, sued a man who helped her back to her feet when she tried to board a bus.

A court ruled that since the man was the first person to get off the bus, it was possible he had knocked the woman over. He was ordered to pay her 45,876 yuan (HK$55,926) in compensation and to cover 40 per cent of her medical bills.

On more than 8,000 internet users have commented on the documents, part of a wider debate over whether to offer assistance if there was a possibility of getting sued, and whether withholding assistance for fear of getting sued showed society's poor morals.

In comments this week, an internet user named Longer said: 'I can't afford to help them stand up unless they are my own parents.' Another said: 'I will never help fallen elderly people unless the Nanjing case is overturned and the judge apologises'.

Last month, bloggers were outraged by the case of an 81-year-old woman in Nantong, Jiangsu, who claimed that she had been injured after being knocked off her tricycle by a bus. She reported the bus's registration number to police, and accused the driver of fleeing the scene of an accident.

Fortunately for the driver, a security camera installed on the front of the bus showed that he had pulled over when approaching the fallen woman, stepped off the bus with a conductor and helped her to stand up. The driver left only after a villager, who was acquainted with the woman, came to pick her up. Despite the security camera proving the bus driver's innocence, the incident revived widely held fears that injured people may turn on their helpers in court.

In Tianjin, Xu Yunhe is appealing against a court verdict last month that ordered him to pay an elderly woman 100,000 yuan over an incident that took place while he was driving a car. He had helped the fallen woman to her feet and sent her to hospital in October 2009 but was later brought to court. The woman fell while climbing over fences in the middle of a road, but the court ruled she might have tumbled for fear of being struck by Xu's vehicle.

The cost of withholding assistance may also be severe. On Sunday, an 88-year-old man in Wuhan, Hubei, suffocated from a nosebleed after he fell at the entrance to a grocery market and was ignored by bystanders. Many people watched, but no one dared to help. One hour later, after his relatives came, he was taken to hospital but it was too late to save him.