If someone else is in danger, do you have a legal duty to help them? The answer will depend upon details that are specific to each case. The court has rules that it applies to certain situations that govern legal duties as well as the relationship between person in need of help and the person in position to help.
The Legal Duty to Rescue Someone Else
In general, there is no legal requirement in the United States to help and rescue someone else who is in danger. This would typically apply even in extreme situations where a bystander sees a small child who has wandered into the street or a man who has fallen onto the train tracks. There are some exceptions to this rule. Ten states have limited rules that may require you to help a crime victim if you can do so without danger or peril to yourself or to others (California, Florida, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Minnesota, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.) In certain scenarios, the law may impose a duty upon you to help rescues someone else who is in danger. Those situations are generally as follows:
- Special Relationships and Circumstances: You may have a duty to rescue someone as a result of a special relationship that exists between you and the person in danger, such as between a teacher and a student.
- You Created the Danger: If your own negligence creates a danger to another person and causes that person to require rescuing, you will usually be found to have a legal duty to rescue the person in danger.
- You Began to Rescue: If you begin to rescue a person in peril, you may have a legal duty to finish your attempt. The court usually applies a reasonableness standard. If you began a rescue and then stopped, the court may find that you may have a duty to continue if a reasonable person would have done so under the circumstances.
Good Samaritan Laws
Some states have Good Samaritan laws which provide protection to those who voluntarily help another person who may be in peril. These laws generally encourage bystanders to offer assistance to others and reduce their hesitation to act for fear of being sued should they fail. Good Samaritan laws provide limited immunity from being sued in specific circumstances. In many instances it applies only where help is being provided without the intention of reward or financial compensation.
Duty to Control Someone Else
In general there is no legal duty to control the actions of another person. There are some special relationships and circumstances that would warrant additional responsibility being placed on one person to control the actions of another. For example, a parent may have a duty to exercise reasonable care in controlling their children in cases where the parent knows that a child has a tendency to engage in activities that are dangerous to others.
Duty to Protect another Person
While there is no general duty to protect another person, there are special circumstances where you might be required to do so. For example, if you are in a custodial capacity and watching someone else, you may have a legal duty to protect them. The owner of a bed and breakfast may have a duty to protect his or her guests. A warden of a jail may have a duty to protect his or her prisoners. The law is not so clear with regard to landlord-tenant relationships although there are other duties and covenants that a landlord is required to provide to a tenant.