New York legislators have voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill requiring epinephrine auto-injectors at all large public venues to treat life-threatening allergic reactions.

The bill was the brainchild of a Brooklyn high school student whose brother went into anaphylactic shock and might have died if the family did not have an EpiPen on hand. Governor Kathy Hochul is expected to sign the bill, which protects those who administer epinephrine to someone in need from liability under the state’s “Good Samaritan Law.”

Acting as a Good Samaritan when somebody needs an EpiPen, however, does not ensure legal immunity if something goes wrong.

Personal Story Inspires Public Policy

Lucia Zaremba has witnessed firsthand how dangerous food allergies can be.

Her younger brother John is allergic to nuts, peanuts, sesame, and legumes and had his first serious reaction at the age of three. When John was older, he unexpectedly developed a red meat allergy from a tick bite and had a severe reaction to eating steak. As his skin turned blue and he struggled to breathe, John turned to their mother and said, “I don’t want to die.”

Fortunately for the Zaremba family, their mother recognized the symptoms of anaphylaxis and had an EpiPen nearby. She injected him and, moments later, he returned to normal.

The terrifying emergency prompted Lucia to learn how to use an EpiPen and wonder what would have happened if the family didn’t have one handy that day. It also got her thinking about people who might not be so lucky.

“There is no telling when or where a person may experience an allergic reaction, making it even more important that public venues be equipped to respond.”

Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal

Lucia’s thought exercise ended in a call to action. She brought a proposal to make EpiPens accessible at public venues across the state to Senator Andrew Gounardes, who began working on a bill that was co-sponsored by Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal

On May 29, the Senate voted 61-0 to approve the bill after it was passed by the State Assembly the previous week by a 135-2 vote.

“Requiring epinephrine devices to be easily accessible to New Yorkers at public venues is a no-brainer, and ensures families don’t have to live in fear every single time they go out to dinner, a concert or a ballgame,” said Gounardes in a press release.

According to the press release, more than 20 million Americans, including two million New Yorkers, suffer from potentially deadly food allergies. Anaphylaxis can cause death in less than 15 minutes if not treated.

What Venues are Covered Under the Law?

Gov. Hochul has until the end of the year to sign the bill into law or veto it. If signed, it would take effect immediately and require:

  • All public assembly places with a capacity of 1,000 people or more to make available a functional epinephrine auto-injector.
  • At least one employee or volunteer in attendance trained in the proper use of an EpiPen and present at each facility function.

The bill defines “places of public assembly” as:

  • Stadiums, ballparks, gymnasiums, field houses, arenas, civic centers, and other facilities use for sporting events.
  • Concert halls, recital halls, theatres, indoor and outdoor amphitheaters, and other auditoriums used for musical performances or concerts.

Excluded from the legislation are places of worship and places owned by religious organizations, as well as those owned by “granges, public associations, or free libraries.”

Can I Be Sued for Giving Someone an EpiPen at a Public Venue?

Given the dire consequences to a person who needs epinephrine but does not receive an injection quickly enough, public venues should not be deterred from administering an EpiPen for fear of being sued. The bill therefore makes it difficult—but not impossible—to sue employees who use an epinephrine auto injector on somebody suffering a severe allergic reaction.

The bill states that any “employee or other agent” of a public venue subject to the law that “voluntarily and without expectation of monetary compensation renders emergency medical or first aid treatment using an epinephrine auto-injector device on someone who is unconscious, ill, or injured” will not be liable for damages, injuries, or death that occur to that person due to the rendering of such emergency treatment, unless it can be established that their injuries were, or death was, “caused by gross negligence.”

This language is taken from NYS Public Health Law § 3000A (i.e., the “Good Samaritan Law”). Designed to incentive bystanders to act when confronted with an emergency medical situation, the Good Samaritan Law protects such individuals by applying the heightened standard of “gross negligence” rather than an ordinary “negligence” standard should they later get sued for allegedly causing injury to the person treated. A similar agreement is found at New York schools for nurses and other school staff members administering an EpiPen to students with allergies.

The bill further clarifies that operation of an epinephrine auto-injector “shall be considered first aid or emergency treatment for the purpose of any statute relating to liability” and that giving an EpiPen “shall not constitute the unlawful practice of a profession under title eight of the education law.”

EpiPen and New York’s Good Samaritan Law

With these rules in mind, if you ever find yourself at a public venue where somebody needs an anaphylactic treatment, it’s probably best to wait until a medical professional or an employee of the venue trained in the use of an EpiPen arrives on the scene.

New York’s Good Samaritan Law doesn’t require you to render aid in an emergency situation. And even if you have EpiPen training, it is possible to face legal action if you give an injection to somebody undergoing anaphylaxis. There have been cases in New York where medical professionals were sued for malpractice for giving volunteer medical assistance in health crises outside of a hospital or medical office.

While you might help the victim to stay calm until trained help arrives, you should think of your own safety as well and act prudently—and never outside the scope of your training—in a situation where an EpiPen might be needed.