in this chapter is a guide only, and is provided to help first aiders
understand the potential legal consequences of becoming involved in an
incident. You should seek your own independent legal advice if you
have any specific questions about legal issues associated with first
aid procedures, or become involved in legal action.
four main legal considerations relating to first aid:
Duty of care
Duty of care
“Duty of care” is a term used to describe
the legal duty owed by one person to another to act in a certain way.
As a first aider, you have a duty of care towards your casualties to
exercise reasonable care and skill in providing first aid treatment.
The duty arises because you have knowledge and skills relevant to a
medical emergency situation. If you choose to provide first aid
assistance, you have a duty to use your knowledge and skills in a
The common law does not impose an automatic
duty on first aiders to go to the aid of every casualty they come
across. However, first aiders do have a duty to provide first aid
assistance if they have voluntarily taken on the duty. For example, a
nominated first aid officer in a workplace owes a duty of care to
assist another person in the workplace.
A duty of care can also be imposed by
legislation. For instance, legislation in some States says that staff
in childcare centres must provide immediate medical aid to a child who
becomes ill or is injured. Further, in the Northern Territory, the
Criminal Code makes it a criminal offence for a person who is able to
do so, to ‘callously fail’ to provide first aid to a person urgently
in need and whose life may be endangered. The penalty for the offence
is up to seven years imprisonment.
Once you commence first aid treatment of a
casualty you do take on a duty of care to provide first aid
with reasonable skill and care and to ensure that your actions do not
increase the risk to the casualty.
You should continue to provide first aid
once this treatment has begun, until:
someone with more qualifications than you (such as an ambulance
officer or doctor) relieves you
another first aider relieves you
the casualty no longer requires first aid
you become incapable of continuing to provide first aid
In the unlikely event that a first aider is
sued in connection with providing first aid assistance, the courts
would look at the circumstances surrounding the event to see if the
first aider acted negligently in the way the first aid was provided.
The following factors must be present for a first aider to be found
A duty of care existed between the first aider and the casualty; and
The first aider did not exercise reasonable care and skill in
providing the first aid; and
The casualty sustained damage; and
The casualty’s damage was caused by the first aider.
A first aider is not considered a
‘professional’ in most cases. A court would look at the first aiders
training and at what a prudent and reasonable person would have done
with the same level of training in the same circumstances. Due to the
public benefits of encouraging people to come to the assistance of
others, it is likely that the Australian courts would adopt the
position that first aiders would only be liable if it can be shown
that their behaviour was grossly negligent and would
take account of all the circumstances of the event.
The court may examine issues to establish
whether the first aider exercised reasonable care:
What was the first aiders level of knowledge?
What information was available for the first aider, including:
Was adequate questioning used?
Was a thorough examination of the casualty undertaken?
Were all the facts available taken into account?
Were accepted first aid procedures complied with?
What were the circumstances in which the first aider provided
A first aider gives CPR to a casualty in
Cardiac Arrest. During this CPR a rib is broken. The resuscitation is
successful and after the event the casualty decides to sue for the
broken rib sustained.
The court would look at the facts and may
it is reasonable to expect that a first aider might break a
casualty’s rib whilst delivering CPR to save the casualty’s life
the first aider acted with reasonable care and skill
the first aider was not negligent in providing CPR in this way
the outcome for the casualty of not performing CPR could have been far
worse than suffering a broken rib