What's your legal risk if you help in an emergency?

It is practically unheard of for a doctor to be successfully sued after helping someone in distress, says a UK legal expert.

In the case of an airline emergency, the law of the country where the plane is registered applies when it is airborne, says Dr Adam Sandell, who is both a barrister and a practising GP.

Regardless, for most doctors, it's likely that their professional code of conduct requires them to offer assistance in an emergency.

“You may be in trouble with your regulator if you do not assist”, Dr Sandell says, adding that it’s reasonable to expect that, in almost all circumstances, a doctor called upon to help would do so.

Dr Sandell suggests that if the patient or family did try to sue for some reason, there would be little prospect of success.

“Most countries have significant protections for people who offer assistance in good faith in emergencies and who aren't grossly negligent”, he says, adding that this is borne out in practice.

“Successful claims against doctors who have offered help in good faith in an emergency of this nature are practically unheard of," he told the European Society of Anaesthesiology in Geneva,.

“Any doctor who doesn't do something very stupid indeed can be confident of not being sued”, he adds, especially if they have medical indemnity insurance that covers good Samaritan acts.

In fact, he notes that international law may also make the airline liable if it has requested the doctor's assistance, so it might be that any claim would be brought against the airline rather than the doctor.