BY: DANIEL BURKE
NANJING – On October 1, 2017, China’s first Samaritan law went into effect across the country. While some individual cities already have laws protecting rescuers from liability, this is the first time the country as a whole has enacted a law of this type. It’s still too early to see the effect, but the hope is that this new law will encourage bystanders to act. In China, people are often dissuaded from action by both fear of being scammed and of predatory victims willing to turn on their rescuer and demand compensation. Article 184 of the civil code, the so-called “Good Samaritan Law,” seeks to address this issue by absolving the rescuer of all responsibility in the event that the person in need is injured further by their efforts. There has been growing demand for this after a number of high publicity incidents.
In 2006, a man was walking in Nanjing when he encountered an elderly lady lying hurt in the street. However, after helping her to a nearby hospital, the lady accused the passerby of causing her injury. He was sued for the medical bills and personal compensation. In a dark twist, despite a lack of evidence, the judge ruled in favor of the woman. He reasoned that no one would willingly help a stranger unless they had caused the injury and felt guilty. Soon after, a flood of similar rulings spread the word that helping others comes at a high price.
However, the event that first sparked earnest interest in a comprehensive law protecting rescuers occurred in 2011. On the afternoon of October 13 in the industrial outskirts of Foshan, Guangdong, a two-year-old child was playing in the street when she was run over by a delivery van. With little Wang Yue lying heavily injured under his car, the van driver hesitated for a moment before driving on, running her over again with his back wheel.
In the following minutes, a man on a motorcycle paused to consider the scene before moving on. A mother pulled her child close to her as they passed Yue lying bleeding on the road. Most heinous of all, another delivery truck ran over the child for a third time on its way to a store. Finally, after five minutes and eighteen passersby, an older woman scrounging through garbage for recyclables noticed Yue. Pulling her out of the street, Chen Xianmei began calling for help to anyone who would listen. Wang Yue’s mother heard these cries and eventually found her gravely injured daughter. After eight days in the hospital, Wang Yue died from her injuries.
This case shocked both the Chinese people and government into addressing this issue deep within Chinese society. Many people reasoned that a major cause for the public apathy is due to the fear of being sued. In response, the province of Guangdong debated introducing a Good Samaritan law in order to protect people from being held liable by the person they had rescued and in 2013, the city of Shenzhen became the first place in China to pass such a law. In 2016, Shanghai followed suit.
The recently enacted national law, Article 184, was originally proposed in December of 2016. Intense debate followed with amendments on March 12 and March 14 explicitly shifting the burden of proof to the plaintive, and completely removing responsibility from the rescuer in civil cases. However, in the event of serious traumatic injury to the person being rescued, the negligent rescuer can still be prosecuted by the state. This change brought the law to its current form that took effect on October 1, 2017.
This law has been viewed in a positive light by the public. Du Yulin, a Chinese college student, commented, “Under this law, people who were fearful of helping someone else don’t need to worry about being framed. No doubt this law will help maintain stability in our society.” Yet, the concerns of injury still linger. In many developed countries, around 10 percent of the general public knows first-aid, however in Shenzhen a study found that number to be only one percent. This lack of first-aid knowledge gives people pause in wholly supporting the law as it currently stands.
Although imperfect, China’s first Good Samaritan law is still viewed as a step towards addressing the reluctance people feel towards helping strangers. It’s still too early to tell if good Samaritans will begin freely lending hands, but the framework has been set to encourage a less apathetic society and ease the still lingering guilt over Wang Yue.