Aid In Emergency


Special Relationship:
A relationship having an element of trust arising especially when one person trusts another to exercise a reasonable degree of care (ex. Parent-child relationship).

Good Samaritan Obligation:
Where the defendant voluntarily undertakes to aid the plaintiff, he owes the plaintiff a duty of reasonable care.

The next special duty that exists is the duty to aid others in emergency situations. We have said again and again that there is no common law duty of rescue. For better or worse, tort law is only concerned with legal obligations, not moral ones, and the fact is, there is no legal obligation to go to the aid of a stranger in an emergency. See Bishop v. Chicago, 257 N.E.2d 152 (Ill. 1970).

However, in four instances, a duty of rescue does exist.

(1) If the defendant has a special relationship to the plaintiff, the defendant may have a duty to go to plaintiff’s aid. Special relationships that establish a duty of rescue are a parent-child relationship, an employer-employee relationship, a host-guest relationship and a carrier-passenger relationship. See Carey v. Davis, 180 N.W. 889 (Iowa 1921).

(2) Where the defendant is responsible for having put the plaintiff in danger, the defendant has the duty to go to plaintiff’s aid. For example:

Bono pushes Edge into a swimming pool. Edge cannot swim. Under the circumstances, Bono has a special duty to go to Edge’s rescue because Bono is responsible for putting Edge in danger. Had Edge fallen into the pool without Bono pushing him, Bono would be under no such obligation because he would not have been responsible for putting Edge in danger.

(3) If there are statutory duties of rescue. Certain states have passed statutes requiring people to assist others in emergency situations.

(4) Finally, there is something called the Good Samaritan obligation which establishes that, where the defendant is under no legal duty to come to plaintiff’s aid but voluntarily undertakes to aid the plaintiff, he owes the plaintiff a duty of reasonable care. See Zelenko v. Gimbel Bros., Inc., 158 Misc. 904 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1935). That is to say, if the defendant does not need to save the plaintiff but tries to anyway, he has to do it carefully. The question is, once the defendant comes to the plaintiff’s rescue, can he stop his efforts mid-rescue?

The answer depends on what stage of the rescue the defendant is in. Some states require the defendant to finish his rescues efforts. Other states allow the defendant to terminate his rescue efforts at any time provided that, when he stops, the plaintiff is in no worse a situation than he would have been in had the defendant not helped at all. For example:

Edge falls down a flight of stairs and breaks both of his legs. Edge is lying helpless on the sidewalk where pedestrians can easily see his distress. Bono sees Edge fall and decides to come to Edge’s aid. The first thing Bono does is drag Edge into an empty building to get him out of the flow of traffic. Bono then leaves to get help but, while he is going to get help, he decides to abandon his rescue efforts. In some states, Bono is prohibited from abandoning the rescue effort and Bono would be liable here. In other states Bono may terminate his rescue attempts without liability so long as the abandonment leaves Edge in no worse a condition than he was in when Bono found him. According to these guidelines, Bono is liable as well. When Bono found Edge, Edge was lying on the sidewalk where people could see him, but Bono only abandoned his rescue efforts after he had moved Edge.

See Miller v. Arnal Corp., 632 P.2d 987 (Ariz. 1981).

The important exception to the "Good Samaritan" rule involves physicians. The law does not want to discourage physicians from coming to the aid of third persons, especially because physicians, given their knowledge of medicine, would be in a better position to help the plaintiff than anyone else might be. Therefore, the Good Samaritan statutes, in practically all jurisdictions insulate physicians from liability for negligence in rescue attempts.