When Elaine gets a call at the movie theatre that her boyfriend, Jake Jarmel, has been in a car accident, she tops to buy some Jujyfruits candy before heading to the hospital to see him. The convenience of the concession stand notwithstanding, did Elaine do anything legally wrong by stopping for the Jujyfruits? Under these circumstances, does Elaine have a duty to help/duty to rescue Jake?
Generally speaking, in American Torts law, there is no duty to rescue. However, such a legal obligation may exist under certain circumstances.
The first is if a person creates a hazardous situation that puts another person in peril. If another person were to come into danger or suffer some injury because of that created hazard then the first person may have a duty to rescue. Applying this principle, if Elaine had something to do with Jake’s injuries and then failed to act, then Elaine could be at legal fault. Playing a bit with the facts here – let’s say Elaine was the one driving the car that caused Jake’s accident, and then Elaine fled the scene to pick up some Jujyfruits while Jake suffered helplessly, unable to get to a hospital, then Elaine could be legally liable for what happened to Jake. However, here, since Elaine had nothing to do with Jake’s injuries, she had not duty to rescue him. Legally speaking, it was ok for her to pick up the Jujyfruits.
But there is a second situation in which a person may have a duty to rescue another – if a special relationship exists between the two parties. These kinds of relationships usually involve some sort of a responsibility towards one another, like a parent/child relationship, employer/employees, or common carriers. This seems to be what Jake (and Jerry too) is driving at by his frustration with Elaine. Jake’s argument would be that he and Elaine have a special legal obligation to each other. Under the circumstances though, Jake is all alone on this one. Common courtesy certainly dictates that Elaine avoid the candy, and the popcorn too, and rush to the hospital to see Jake. But she is under no legal obligation to do so.
Another situation that could mandate Elaine to help Jake is if she had begun to help him, but then stopped before Jake was fully safe. This tort falls under the negligence theory. Once a person initiates care, then they assume a responsibility and must complete the help. Here, had Elaine begun to help Jake but then stopped for a snack break while Jake suffered needlessly, then Elaine could be liable.
A final issue to consider are Good Samaritan statutes, which obligate strangers and bystanders to provide reasonable assistance to those in need. New York does have such a law. Under these circumstances though, Elaine’s ability to help is far too remote, as Jake is already at the hospital and there isn’t really anything left for her to do in this situation.
Even though Elaine has no duty to rescue Jake under these circumstances, it might be wise for her to lay off the Jujyfruits for a while. Not only does it lead to the end of her relationship with Jake, but it also starts a chain reaction that leads to the end of both Pendant Publishing and Kramer’s coffee table book. Worst of all, it reverses her position with George!
2 thoughts on ““The Opposite” – Duty To Rescue”
Glad to have you back! I told a law student I mentored about your site this past weekend and he told me there was a new post.
I’m so glad you and your students have kept up with us! We are hoping to post regularly again going forward so stay tuned