Good Samaritan laws: Critical to disaster recovery
As we watch the city of Houston begin the process of rebuilding their city—and as we are inundated with images of Floridians and residents of Georgia, North and South Carolina either evacuating or preparing for the impacts of Hurricane Irma—AIA recognizes the important role of architects in preparing for and responding to disasters. We know that architects—through their education, training, and practice—have a unique skill set that affords them the ability to conduct post-disaster building safety assessments to help those affected by a declared disaster return safely and quickly to their homes and businesses.
Good Samaritan laws are designed to provide liability protection to architects and other licensed professionals who have been called upon to respond during a declared disaster. They typically provide protection from liability resulting from, “personal injury, wrongful death, property damage, or other loss caused by a professional engineer’s acts, errors, or omissions in the performance of voluntary architectural services. Such laws eliminate the liability deterrent that may inhibit architects from providing voluntary services.” However, “the immunity is removed if there is wanton, willful, or intentional misconduct, ensuring protection to those who are using the architectural services.”
Without Good Samaritan laws in place, a licensed architect may be exposed to questions of liability even though he or she is acting in good faith to preserve the safety of a community. While most states have statutes that cover certain volunteers from liability during an emergency situation, it is questionable if these statutes would shield an architect from liability if he or she is called upon to render professional services in a time of crisis. The ambiguity of these situations can be removed by passing Good Samaritan legislation.
State legislatures throughout the country have expressed a willingness to protect architects from unnecessary liability claims that may arise from voluntary work during emergencies by enacting Good Samaritan laws. Currently, 36 states have a Good Samaritan law for architects, leaving 14 states vulnerable when disaster strikes. (Visit AIA’s Good Samaritan State Statute Compendium to see which states have laws already in existence.) At this time, there is no comprehensive federal law and state laws vary widely, opening critical gaps in coverage that leave architects vulnerable. It’s important to note that not all state Good Samaritan laws provide the same level of coverage as AIA’s model Good Samaritan law.
During a disaster like Hurricane Harvey or the impending Hurricane Irma, state and local governments may not have the resources to respond adequately to the challenges confronting them. If formally requested by government officials, architects are often willing to volunteer their time and services to assist emergency management officials in assessment and recovery efforts from catastrophes to help ensure the preservation of a community’s health, safety, and welfare. But due to a growing concern for potential liability that could arise from such voluntary assistance, architects have since become reluctant to provide similar assistance during other disasters unless reasonable protection from liability is provided.
Architects—and AIA—are advocating for the enactment of state laws that provide immunity from liability for any personal injury, wrongful death, property damage, or other loss of any nature caused by the architect’s or engineer’s acts, errors, or omissions in the performance of voluntary architectural or engineering services. To aid in advocacy efforts, AIA offers a model Good Samaritan Law that states may adapt. Building officials, allied professionals (i.e.: civil, structural and geotechnical engineers), construction organizations, the insurance industry and civic organizations are among our allies in encouraging elected officials to pass Good Samaritan laws.
Rachel Minnery, FAIA, is AIA's senior director of sustainable development policy.
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