Good Samaritan Law

The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act 
On October 1, 1996, President Clinton signed into law the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, a new federal law to encourage the donation of food and grocery products to non-profit charitable organizations for distribution to needy people. The new federal Good Samaritan law protects businesses, volunteers and non-profit organizations from civil or criminal liability in the course of donating apparently fit and wholesome food or grocery products for distribution to needy people. The federal Good Samaritan Act is designed to encourage donations of food and grocery products by providing a uniform, national standard of liability for donations.

In 1990, model Good Samaritan legislation was enacted by the National and Community Service Act.  At that time, Congress recognized the need to protect donors from liability, in order to increase private sector in-kind donations to charities serving the poor. The 1990 model legislation was used by several states in the drafting of their own Good Samaritan statutes. All 50 states enacted their own versions of the Good Samaritan legislation, with varying degrees of liability protection, coverage, types of food covered, definitions of donors and other standards. 

From 1990 to 1996, the "patchwork" of varying state Good Samaritan statutes led some food manufacturers to either curtail donations of food or limit the distribution of their donations to only certain states. Further proof of the problem was evidenced in a 1995 Market Potential Report commissioned by Second Harvest. The 1995 Report found that 83% of more than 240 companies polled cited "liability concerns" as the single greatest factor in determining whether or not a company would donate product. For example, 33 states and D.C. protect the donor from civil and criminal liability, while 17 states protect the donor only from civil liability. As the House Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities noted: "These laws ... vary with respect to the types of food covered and the definition of donor and good faith." Some companies, which are national in scope, were faced with the daunting task of determining their liability risk -- and the varying definitions of "good faith" and duties to inspect -- in each state before making a donation. The varying state standards of liability led some companies to destroy surplus food rather than donate for distribution to needy people. 

The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act of 1996 converts Title IV of the National and Community Service Act of 1990, from "model" legislation to permanent law, and transfers the Good Samaritan law to Section 22 of the Child Nutrition Act of 1966.  The federal Good Samaritan Act preempts the various state Good Samaritan statutes with a single, federal standard of criminal and civil liability in the donation of food and grocery products.  Civil and criminal liability protection is extended to donors, persons, gleaners, and non-profit organizations arising from the nature, packaging, age, or condition of apparently wholesome food or apparently fit grocery products donated for distribution to needy people.  Liability for donations is limited to acts of "gross negligence" or intentional misconduct, as defined by the Good Samaritan Act. The Good Samaritan Act also stipulates that local and state health regulations and workers’ compensation laws are not altered or interfered with by the Act. 

The legislation passed both chambers of Congress, unanimously, and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on October 1, 1996.

To read The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996 click here.

This background guide is provided for informational purposes only. No representation is made to the applicability of the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (P.L. 104-210, H.Rpt. 104-661) to the actions of any individual or organization. Donors and potential donors should consult legal counsel regarding the applicability of the statute to their activities. P.L.104-210 pre-empts state Good Samaritan food donation statutes. The doctrine of pre-emption precedes from the U.S. Supreme Court which holds that certain matters are of such national, as opposed to local, character that federal law pre-empts state law.