Shenzhen works on first 'Good Samaritan law'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 November, 2011, 12:00am


Shenzhen may become the first mainland city to give Good Samaritans a reason not to be afraid of getting into trouble if they help others in need.

New draft regulations were issued on Monday offering protection to those who help others out of altruism, saying that, in principle, they would be exempted from legal liability for any damage they cause during the course of rescue. The draft, being circulated for public consultation, would become the mainland's first 'Good Samaritan law' if passed.

Eighteen passers-by ignored a toddler who was run over by two vehicles in nearby Foshan last month. She was eventually rescued by an elderly scavenger but died in hospital eight days later.

Many mainlanders were quick to condemn the passers-by as apathetic and having low moral standards. But the girl's death also underlined other factors behind a prevalent reluctance on the mainland to help strangers, including widespread scams and the possibility that a rescuer could be accused of being the perpetrator.

The draft regulations attempt to address both these points. They say a rescuer would be exempted from bearing legal liability for the consequences of their rescue efforts, unless they were grossly negligent. The burden of proving any such negligence would rest with the rescued party.

The draft regulations also say the rescued party would be made to apologise or be punished if they lie about the circumstances of the rescue and falsely accuse the rescuer of causing damage. If fraud is discovered, the rescued party could face criminal prosecution.

Other measures are designed to encourage altruism. If rescuers are injured or die during efforts, they or their families would be entitled to government compensation. Rescuers would also be able to apply for legal aid if they are sued, and witnesses who testify about a rescue would receive rewards.

The mainland has laws encouraging citizens to help fight crime and offering rewards and protection in such cases, but they do not apply to passers-by responding to accidents. The tragedy in Foshan prompted intense debate about whether the government should introduce a legal responsibility to rescue, as there is in many European countries. Critics of such a duty say it would be difficult to enforce in China.

Shenzhen's draft regulations suggest a gentler legal obligation.

The move was more appropriate as cases in which citizens refused to help someone in need, resulting in grave consequences, 'are still far and few between', public interest lawyer Hu Yihua said. 'This is, after all, a moral issue, and we should work harder as a society to cultivate such a mentality.'

Guangdong lawyer Zhu Yongping disagreed, saying that a legal duty to rescue should be imposed because apathy had become a problem endangering society.

Zhu added that it was also important for the top court to issue guidelines restricting judges' discretionary power in civil judgments.

The case of Peng Yu still sits fresh in people's memory. In 2006, the man helped an old lady who had fallen and sent her to hospital, but he was sued and accused of causing the fall. A Nanjing court ruled against him on the basis that 'according to social norms', he would not have been so helpful had he not been the perpetrator.

'Judgments such as this have directly resulted in the downward slide of morality,' Zhu said.