Is There a Legal Obligation to Assist Others in Emergency Situations?

Is There a Legal Obligation to Assist Others in Emergency Situations?Often, morals or ethics can conflict with legal duties and responsibilities. Surely, making sure that citizens are safe and that we can go about our lives free from the fear of being injured through other people’s negligence is not just a legal obligation, but also a moral and social one.

One area where moral and legal obligations may contradict one another, is with respect to the duty for a bystander to intervene when witnessing someone who needs help, is injured, or is a victim.

Moral vs Legal Obligations

Morally, many would argue that watching someone who is in need of help and refraining from providing it is wrong. Many would argue that it is our ethical obligation to render whatever help we can, even if it is just picking up a phone and calling 911. The idea that someone could legally see another in distress, perhaps even someone who is dying, and simply watch, doing nothing, conflicts with common notions of morality.

The issue is getting publicity after a law professor whose family were victims of the Holocaust published a book, arguing that not only do all people have an obligation to step up and help others in need, but that it should be a crime not to do so.

The author argues that the Holocaust may not have happened or would have been mitigated had those people who stood by and did nothing took some action to stop it from happening, or at least, tried to protect Holocaust victims. In the book, the author supports his belief that watching a rape or a crime is the same as being complicit to that crime.

The book details instances of sexual assaults that took place before bystanders who stood by and did little or nothing to prevent the attacks or render aid or assistance. The author does not suggest that everybody should jump into every dangerous situation like a comic book superhero, or put themselves in danger, but suggests that even the act of calling the police can help, and that it should be a legal obligation to do so.

Florida’s Good Samaritan Law

The closest that Florida law comes to any kind of duty like this is Florida’s Good Samaritan Law. That law does not require that any bystander do something, it merely provides some immunity for those who do choose to act to assist another.

The Good Samaritan law provides legal protection for those who render medical care or treatment to someone in need in an emergency, so long as the care is rendered in good faith, and so long as there is no objection by the victim or the family.

The person rendering the aid must act as a reasonably prudent person would. This means that the law will not protect anybody who does not have a medical license that performs an emergency surgery at the roadside.

It would, however, protect someone who sees a pedestrian who was hit by a car and tries to move the pedestrian out of the road to avoid being hit again, or who may wrap the pedestrian’s injury, or someone who drags a passenger out of a sinking vehicle.

The law also protects medical providers who render emergency care to a victim, so long as the care is not rendered recklessly. That normally means that the medical provider can not render any treatment that would be more dangerous than the harm, the victim may suffer with no treatment at all.

The immunities provided by the Good Samaritan law end when the emergency situation is over. That means that the victim is stabilized, or not in any risk of further injury if no care is rendered.

Although the law is intended to encourage people to help others, and avoid doing nothing when people need help, noticeably absent from the law is the obligation for anybody to actually do anything, from rendering care to calling 911.

Other Factors Can Create Obligations and Liability

As a general rule, there is no negligence or civil liability for failing to intervene and assist someone in need. However, that general rule has numerous exceptions, when there is a special relationship between two people.

For example, a teacher or counselor who supervises children in school or camp must intervene where possible to protect children or students from injury. Business establishments could not sit back and fail to help people in need on their premises. Some establishments have the obligation to provide sufficient security to intervene when people need help.

Many laws, such as those imposed by OSHA, may make it illegal for an employer to refrain from aiding or assisting injured employees. And, of course, responders bound by their job, such as police officers or EMS employees, must actively intervene to provide assistance to those in need.

Other States Have Bystander Laws

There are states that do impose a legal obligation on bystanders to intervene on a victim’s behalf. Those laws usually provide that assistance must be given to those in risk of grave harm, and so long as those helping are not at risk themselves by offering to help.

Proponents of these laws say that the likelihood of crime or negligence is reduced when people know that others will render aid, come to someone’s assistance, or call first responders. They also cite the moral duty to come to another’s aid. Others, however, are reluctant to pass laws that compel people to get involved in something they otherwise may have nothing to do with, and have concern that such laws may spur additional litigation.

If you or a loved one are injured because of the negligence of another, there may be many parties with potential liability. Contact Brill & Rinaldi today about a free consultation to discuss your case and to determine who may be responsible.