Friday, June 6, 2008

Should There Be a "Duty to Rescue"?

This video, in which a hit-and-run driver hits a man and passers-by do nothing but gawk, sparked a conversation between me and a fellow law clerk about whether tort law should recognize a duty to rescue.

According to the Wikipedia "duty to rescue" article, many European nations at least recognize a duty to contact emergency authorities, although only a few impose a full-fledged affirmative duty to rescue.

What do you guys think American jurisdictions should do with this issue? Should we continue imposing no duty to rescue? Is an affirmative duty to rescue a good idea? Why or why not? What about an intermediate solution such as imposing a duty to contact authorities?

This is a genuine, substantive post. Let's get some comments going for once!


mootgoescow said...

It'd be best if no duty was required - if human beings would act like they had a "moral obligation". But like other areas of government regulation (see Medicare, Medicaid, and Welfare) when other citizens don't or aren't willing to provide on an individual basis, the government has to step in and do something. Personally, I'd like to see a duty to inform, and perhaps a duty to rescue for certain competent individuals, e.g. doctors, off-duty emergency respondents, etc., but I haven't thought the duty to rescue out. It's been pointed out that such a duty could impose unforeseen consequences. As of now, I can't really think of any negative implications of a duty to inform. It really is not a huge imposition to force people to pick up their cell phones and dial 911. I suppose it's possible that dispatch could get inundated with calls, but that's a risk I'm willing to take. Also, if you watch the video it doesn't appear that such a flood would have occurred - there are maybe 10-15 observers, hardly what I'd call a flood. The only difficulty I see is enforcement. Would enforcement take the form of a civil remedy or a criminal punishment or fine? And how would these offenders be identified? In this case, the person struck happened to stay conscious, but even so witness identification is notoriously unreliable. What happens if the person requiring aid isn't fortunate enough to stay conscious? Would the person who actually made the phone call take the names down of the people who failed to do so? Would it be a defense to say, "Well I saw him making a phone call and assumed it was to 911, so I didn't want to repeat the call and waste their time."? These are questions that would have to be answered, but I'm confident such issues could be worked out given more than a few cursory moments to think about them. After all, if the Frenchies could figure it out, I'm sure we can as well.

mfocker said...

drowning babies

Doesn't get any much better than that!

Butterflyfish said...

Moral obligation: good.

Creating a new tort against bystanders who don't jump into raging rivers to save idiots: bad.

Duty to inform: agin, what happens if there is a breach? Liability for wrongful death just for being a thoughtless asshole?

Sorry, can't do it.

Brian said...

I don't come to your blog to analyze real moral and legal questions. I come for inane, sarcastic and bitter comments about law school and the legal field.

(But you do bring up a good question)