Laws are in place to defend the public and to keep order. The court system was created to ensure that everyone follows the rules, and that if they don’t, they are held accountable for their actions and responsibilities. There are specific obligations or legal duties that people owe to each other under certain circumstances. In those situations where a duty does exist, it is typically related to the relationship that the two parties have in the current situation.
Duty to reduce
Generally, people do not have the duty to come to someone’s rescue if they find themselves in danger, even in circumstances where the results of not aiding could be extreme or deadly. For instance, if an adult sees a child playing on railroad tracks and the adult knows that the train is coming, they are under no obligation to rescue the child. However, there are some exceptions to the rule that would make the situation unlawful if the other party does not step in to help. They are:
- If the defendant was the one who created the danger – If the defendant in a personal injury case was responsible for the negligence that put another person in peril, then it is usually their duty to step in to prevent the other party from being injured or harmed.
- Undertaking to Act – If the defendant in a personal injury case begins to help the person but then for some reason stops, the defendant may then become liable to complete the rescue. If they do not, they might be neglecting their duty of care to the other party. Most courts would rule in favor of the defendant if the other party started to help but then stopped, because it would be reasonable care for the rescuer to continue their actions so that the other party is not injured.
- Special Relationships – If the defendant has a special relationship with the victim, then they might own them the duty to step in. Circumstances such as being someone’s employee or teacher-student relationships would fall under these exceptions.
Good Samaritan Laws
There is always the possibility that if someone steps in to rescue and believes they are doing good, they can unwittingly cause harm. That could open them up to be liable in a personal injury case. “Good Samaritan” laws protect people who help rescue someone else from legal prosecution if they are unable to save them or even hurt them while attempting to rescue them. The laws were initiated to encourage people to help one another out when they see someone in need of rescue, instead of looking the other way for fear of accidentally doing harm and being liable for the damages. If someone steps in to rescue another person and they hurt them accidentally, they will typically not be held liable unless they did something reckless.
Although they differ from state to state, Good Samaritan laws generally follow the same legal guidelines. As a bystander, you have no obligation to step in to help someone who is in need, but hopefully, with the Good Samaritan laws in place, people won’t hesitate to rescue someone in need. The only exception is in the state of Vermont. The citizens of Vermont are required to help those who are in need of rescue, or they can actually be held liable for injuries for failing to act.
Duty to control
In general, you don’t have an obligation to stop someone from acting against someone else. There are some exceptions, however. If you are the parent of a child who acts recklessly or dangerously, and you are aware of their behavior but do nothing, you may be held responsible for their actions if they cause harm to someone else.
Duty to Protect
If someone is in your care, then you might have a duty to rescue and keep them safe from injuries. Situations where a person might have the duty to protect include prisoners, guests at an establishment, or even hotel workers. The courts have found that if someone is under your care or staying at your establishment, you might be held liable to help them if they should need it.
Legally, most people have no obligation to help out someone else if they see them in peril. With some exceptions, the right of choosing to help save someone from danger is a moral decision, not a legal one.