One year ago today, as Superstorm Sandy was battering New Jersey, teams of licensed architects and professional engineers were standing by ready to volunteer to help with home, business and road inspections.

Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D) promotes Good Samaritan legislation at the State House. (Photo by Kevin McArdle, Townsquare Media)
Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D) promotes Good Samaritan legislation at the State House. (Photo by Kevin McArdle, Townsquare Media)

Ultimately they didn't do many because they feared lawsuits. A high-ranking state legislator is trying to address the situation.

Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald sponsors a bill that would shield architects and engineers from liability when they volunteer their services in response to major natural disasters. Currently, many of them are deterred from volunteering their professional aid in times of critical need. Greenwald says that unduly restricts the state's ability to quickly and effectively provide safety inspections after a large-scale disaster.

"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," says 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."

The legislation is modeled after laws in 26 other states.

"When our communities are in crisis after a natural disaster, they need all the help they can get," says 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 published report, almost 400 architects stood ready to use their professional expertise to help in assessing storm-damaged properties in New York City days after Superstorm Sandy hit, but the specter of potentially massive lawsuit liability the vast majority decided not to volunteer their assistance, leaving local officials overwhelmed by the scale of the task.

"Volunteer licensed architects have been a key component in disaster response across the country for decades," says Jack Purvis, 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."

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.