Good Samaritan Laws Gain Traction in States

April 2014

NSPE TODAY: POLICY PERSPECTIVES
Good Samaritan Laws Gain Traction in States

BY ARIELLE EISER

In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, a serious issue involving professional engineers came to the forefront: Good Samaritan protection.

During natural disasters or other catastrophic events, the demand for emergency services often exceeds the capacity of government agencies. State and local governments rely on the private sector to help, and the expertise and skills of PEs are particularly needed in times of such crises. Although professional engineers are ready and willing to voluntarily assist in these situations, they face substantial liability exposure when doing so. Without sufficient immunity from liability, PEs are put at great personal risk, and therefore may become hesitant to volunteer.

After the September 11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina, PEs providing crucial engineering services at no cost became targets for litigation. Lawsuits were filed against AEC firms. Unfortunately, in the absence of federal and state Good Samaritan laws to protect A/E professionals, this exposed professional engineers to substantial potential liability.

As a result, many professional engineers, particularly those in states without Good Samaritan laws, were deterred from providing further voluntary services. NSPE strongly supports the adoption of Good Samaritan laws that provide immunity from liability for any personal injury, wrongful death, property damage, or other loss caused by a professional engineer’s acts, errors, or omissions in the performance of voluntary engineering services. Such laws eliminate the liability deterrent that may inhibit engineers from providing voluntary services. In doing so, it promotes the voluntary participation by professional engineers in emergency relief efforts. In addition, engineers’ Good Samaritan laws allow states and localities to factor in voluntary engineering assistance when planning for disasters.

This issue prompted some states to adopt their own Good Samaritan laws. NSPE also collaborated with Congressman Dave Reichert (R-WA) to support federal legislation, the Good Samaritan Protection for Construction, Architectural, and Engineering Volunteers Act, that would provide qualified immunity to engineering, architectural, and construction entities (both individuals and organizations) volunteering in a declared emergency.

Unfortunately, after several attempts in Congress, it became clear that this legislation would not be enacted into law. Therefore, the focus shifted back to the states. NSPE developed a model Good Samaritan law for the states to use. A PE who voluntarily and without compensation provides structural, electrical, mechanical, or other engineering services related to a declared national, state, or local emergency caused by a major disaster or catastrophic event at the request of a proper designated public official acting in an official capacity shall not be liable for any personal injury, wrongful death, property damage, or other loss related to the professional engineer’s acts, errors, or omissions in the performance of any engineering services for any structure, building, piping, or other engineered system, either publicly or privately owned. The immunity only applies to a voluntary engineering service that occurs during the emergency or within 90 days following the end of the period for an emergency, disaster, or catastrophic event, unless extended by an executive order issued by the governor under the governor’s emergency executive powers. Nothing shall provide immunity for wanton, willful, or intentional misconduct.

More and more states are recognizing the importance of this issue. In fact, in the past year, nine states have introduced Good Samaritan engineering laws, including New Jersey, Oklahoma, and New York—states that have all been hit hard recently by natural catastrophes and understand the importance of voluntary engineering services. We still have a long way to go to ensure that every professional engineer is protected by Good Samaritan laws, but substantial progress has been made in recent years, as states increasingly appreciate the need for this legislation.

Arielle Eiser is NSPE’s government relations manager.

NSPE Endorses Veterans Licensure Legislation At Senate Committee’s Request

NSPE, at the request of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has endorsed the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014. Introduced by Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT), this legislation (S. 1982) addresses the needs of the veterans’ community and responds to issues raised by veterans and their organizations in numerous hearings and private meetings.

NSPE was specifically asked to address the professional license component of the legislation and commends S. 1982 for acknowledging the need to protect the professional licenses of uniformed service members. NSPE strongly supports Section 802 of the bill, which states that if a professional license issued by a state or local licensing authority to a service member would otherwise lapse during a period in which such service member is eligible for hostile fire or imminent danger special pay, the state licensing authority shall delay the expiration of the license at least 180 days. Moreover, NSPE endorses Section 802 of the legislation for applying the 180-day cushion to continuing education requirements.

In a letter of support to Chairman Sanders, NSPE President Robert Green, P.E., F.NSPE writes, “While NSPE believes strongly that state licensure requirements are vitally important, NSPE also believes that state licensure authorities should show a reasonable level of flexibility toward those defending our nation. NSPE believes the language in S. 1982 embodies that level of flexibility.”