Worried about legal risk of doing CPR? Inaction is riskier

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CPR saves lives, but some bystanders may hold back from helping for fear of being sued.

New research suggests the higher legal risk comes from not helping.

A review of 30 years of U.S. lawsuits found only a few tied to someone performing CPR. Many more were related to delayed or inadequate CPR.

The review also found more than $620 million has been issued as settlement or punitive damages for delays in CPR, while only about $120,000 has been paid as damages for performing it.

"The misgivings people express about being blamed for a bad outcome if they were to perform bystander CPR are essentially unfounded," the study's lead author, Dr. Travis Murphy, said in a news release. He's an emergency medicine attending physician and a fellow in surgical critical care at the University of Florida in Gainesville. "A person is much more likely to be taken to court for not providing CPR soon enough."

The preliminary findings will be presented Sunday at the American Heart Association's Resuscitation Science Symposium taking place in Philadelphia.

Researchers scanned a legal research database for jury verdicts, settlements and appellate opinions from all 50 states, from 1989 to 2019, in which the use or nonuse of CPR led to a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.

Of those cases, 167 involved alleged negligence, of which 74 were ruled in favor of the person who administered CPR. Three cases alleged battery, and two of those went in favor of the person administering CPR.

Every state has "Good Samaritan" laws that offer legal protection to people who give reasonable assistance to those who they believe to be injured or in peril.

"We hope this information would encourage people trained in bystander CPR to use the skills they have learned and help save a life," Murphy said.

Find more news from Scientific Sessions.

If you have questions or comments about this story, please email editor@heart.org.

American Heart Association News covers heart disease, stroke and related health issues. Not all views expressed in American Heart Association News stories reflect the official position of the American Heart Association.

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