Obligations to Assist Others in Peril

Obligations to Assist Others in Peril

Obligations to Assist Others in Peril

Charlotte, NC Personal Injury

As the weather heats up, people flock to outdoor, recreational activities.  A trip to the lake or ocean to swim away the scorching temperatures is typically a pleasant summertime activity, but sometimes, things can go wrong.  Drowning is the third leading cause of death from unintentional injury, worldwide.  In the United States, an average of nearly 4,000 deaths by drowning occurred each year from 1999-2010.

So what happens if you are caught in a situation where someone is in peril?

The legal adage that “danger invites rescue” is as true as ever.  In other words, when another person is drowning—or in some other type of peril—it is the natural, or moral inclination of many to attempt to help.  Surprisingly, the law rarely demands that one do so.

This concept is somewhat counterintuitive and foreign to the majority, who would find it all but impossible to sit by while another human perished by any means.  However, legally, an ordinary, reasonable person is generally under no legal duty to act to rescue another who finds him or herself in peril.  Of course, certain exceptions exist.

Dipping a Toe:  When Failing to Attempt to Rescue Another Could Result in Liability

The most common legal circumstance that would require a person to act in aid of another is when there is a special relationship between the two parties.  Though states vary slightly in the special relationships that do or do not create a duty, common relationships that impose a requirement to render aid are familial ones, like husband/wife or parent/child, and contractual ones like teacher/student, business-owner/guest, and mental-health provider/patient.

Certain other circumstances can create a duty to act, most notably when someone actually creates the peril that endangers the person in need of rescue.  In such circumstances, when the would-be rescuer actually created the danger, he or she is legally bound to render aid.

In addition, if a person chooses to attempt to rescue another, that rescuer must then perform that rescue as reasonable, ordinary person would under the circumstances.  The rescuer—having decided voluntarily to engage in the rescue–cannot leave the victim in a worse position, as when others decline to act because the person in peril is already being rescued.

Jumping In:  When Attempting to Rescue Could Result in Liability and Legal Protection of the Rescuer

As noted above, abandoning a rescue attempt undertaken by choice could lead to liability.  Voluntarily attempting to rescue a person in peril will very rarely result in liability.  A rescuer will only be liable for injury caused during a rescue attempt when the rescuer’s efforts were so careless when weighed against the nature of the emergency that his or her carelessness rises to the level of acting rashly or imprudently.  In South Carolina, a person who attempts to render aid in an emergency situation is insulated from any liability by statue under so-called “Good Samaritan” law.  North Carolina observes the same principle, though not by statute.  Moreover, if the rescuer is injured trying to aid another whose peril was caused by a third party, the third party may become liable to the rescuer for his or her injuries.

The Bottom Line

Because danger invites rescue, and danger is inevitable, the law works equally to protect those who choose not to engage in assistance to one in peril, and those who volunteer to do so.  Like so many choices then, in general, the decision whether or not to “jump in” to assist another will be personal.

Of course, to avoid having to choose between a legal and a moral obligation during a moment of crisis, the best strategy is to keep safety first this summer, wherever you are, and whomever you may be with.

Three Summer Water-Safety Tips

  1. Know how to swim. This may seem obvious, but the Red Cross reports that only 56% of Americans who said they could swim could pass a basic swimming skills test.  Before getting in over your head, test your swimming skills.  Swimming classes are available to adults as well.  Practicing in a pool, you should be able to (1) jump into the water over your head, (2) return to the surface, (3) tread water for one minute, turning around in a full circle, (4) swim 25 yards, and (5) exit the pool without using a ladder.
  2. Know the conditions. Most child drownings occur in pools.  In pools, barriers that keep children from entering the pool without supervision reduce a child’s risk of drowning by 83%.  Lifeguards are critical, but are not a substitute for individual supervision of a young child in the water.  If at the ocean, know the meaning of colored flags, do some research on Rip currents, and swim in pairs.
  3. Stay Dry. Drowning by those 15 and over more commonly occur in natural water settings.  Alcohol use was involved in 70% of water-recreation-based accidents.  You should avoid drinking alcohol not only before swimming or other water sports, but also when supervising children swimming.  One of the most important safety practices when in the water is to stay alert.

Contact the Personal Injury Law Firm of Bice Law

The personal injury firm of Bice Law will examine your case to determine the type and amount of damages that your injury warrants, including payments for medical expenses, lost income, pain and suffering, and any permanent disability.  We’ll determine whether an out-of-court settlement or trial is the best strategy to obtain maximum benefits for you or your family. If you have suffered injury or harm because of someone else’s actions, take the first step to protect your legal rights – contact the personal injury firm of Bice Law serving both North and South Carolina. You only have a limited time after your injury to file a claim, so act quickly.  Call 877-BICE-877 today or submit an online request  to get a free consultation with a  personal injury attorney. We serve families across both North Carolina and South Carolina.

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