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Ten States Impose a Statutory 'Duty to Rescue'

Ringbuoy One of the memorable moments of torts class in law school comes when the "duty to rescue" is discussed. In short, the common law is that a person who witnesses a crime or other emergency that is placing another person at risk of grave physical harm has no "duty to rescue" or to do anything whatsoever. Thus, to paraphrase my torts professor, no matter how easy it would be for a 200-pound, 8th-degree black belt in karate to rescue a child being beaten up by a 7-year-old girl, the black belt can walk on by under the common law (with certain exceptions, such as when the would-be rescuer is an emergency worker or the victim is your own child).

The Volokh Conspiracy blog notes in this post, however, that several states have enacted statutes that impose a duty to rescue crime victims or report crimes. These statutes apply "only when the person actually believes that he is (or at least might well be) witnessing a crime or emergency. If he is reasonably mistaken about what's going on, he'll (theoretically) be off the hook," Volokh writes.

The 10 states identified by Volokh with "duty to rescue" statutes are California, Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin. Most of the statutes, however, impose only a very limited to duty to call the police if you witness a serious crime such as murder or rape, and can summon help without endangering yourself.

Posted by Bruce Carton on November 3, 2009 at 11:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

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