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Greenwald: Good Samaritan Law Needed to Improve Response to the Next Superstorm Sandy

(TRENTON)–Joined by professional experts the day before the one year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy making landfall in New Jersey, Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington) called for Good Samaritan legislation to improve the state’s ability to respond to large-scale natural disasters.
Modeled after successful approaches used in 26 other states, A-3694 would bolster safety inspection capacity in the aftermath of disasters like Sandy, the scale of which can easily overwhelm local governments.
“Whether it is tornadoes in Alabama, earthquakes in California or hurricanes in New Jersey, Good Samaritan laws are critical in ensuring a safe, effective and speedy response to major natural disasters,” said Greenwald. “By passing a Good Samaritan law in New Jersey, we will better prepare our state to respond rapidly and efficiently to the next Superstorm Sandy.”
Greenwald’s legislation, A-3694, would shield licensed architects and Professional Engineers from liability when they volunteer their services in response to major natural disasters. Without such protection, many of these professionals are deterred from volunteering their professional aid in times of critical need–unduly restricting the ability to quickly and effectively provide safety inspections after a large-scale disaster.
“When our communities are in crisis after a natural disaster, they need all the help they can get,” said Greenwald. “Yet the potential for massive lawsuits keeps these critically needed volunteers on the sidelines. By enacting a Good Samaritan law, we will promote public safety while greatly strengthening our state’s ability to effectively respond to disasters.”
According to a 2013 article in Crain’s New York Business, nearly 400 architects stood ready to use their professional expertise to assist in assessing storm-damaged properties in New York City days after Superstorm Sandy hit. But the specter of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in potential lawsuit liability deterred the vast majority from volunteering their assistance, leaving local officials overwhelmed by the scale of the task. Without a Good Samaritan law, New Jersey faces a similar problem.
In contrast, Alabama’s Good Samaritan law, enacted in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, was crucial in the aftermath of devastating tornadoes that killed 64 people and caused $2.2 billion in damage in April 2011. In response to the devastating category EF-4 tornado, over 200 professionals volunteered nearly 1,300 hours in Tuscaloosa alone, inspecting over 7,000 buildings for safety–critical assistance given the municipality’s limited staff resources.
“Volunteer licensed architects have been a key component in disaster response across the country for decades,” said Jack Purvis, A.I.A., President of the American Institute of Architects, NJ Chapter. “Majority Leader Greenwald’s Good Samaritan legislation will promote better safety and more efficient disaster response for the next natural disaster that hits New Jersey.”
“When major disaster strikes, volunteer Professional Engineers stand ready to answer the call,” said Robert Thiel, P.E., President of the New Jersey Society of Professional Engineers. “Majority Leader Greenwald deserves great credit for this Good Samaritan bill, which will help New Jersey better respond to the next big storm.”
To protect property owners, licensed professionals would be shielded from liability only after meeting A-3694’s rigorous legal standards. To qualify for immunity, licensed architects or Professional Engineers must provide professional services:
· Voluntarily and without compensation;
· At the request of a federal, state or local public safety official acting in his or her official capacity;
· At the scene of a declared national, state or local emergency caused by a major hurricane, earthquake, tornado, fire, explosion, collapse or similar disaster;
· During a limited period of time after the disaster (90 days following the emergency, with extensions permitted by gubernatorial executive order under the Governor’s emergency powers)
Under the bill, licensed architects or Professional Engineers would remain liable for the full extent of damages caused by their own acts or omissions that are wanton, willful or grossly negligent.
A-3694 has been referred to the Assembly Regulated Professions Committee.