Am I Required to Help a Person in Need? (Duty to Rescue)

In most states, including North Carolina, there is no general duty to come to another person’s rescue. However, there are a few exceptions where failure to rescue can lead to criminal prosecution or civil liability in a personal injury suit. We also have laws that limit a person’s legal liability for attempting to help another in an emergency situation.

When the Law Says You Have to Help

There are three general circumstances where the law imposes a duty to attempt rescue on a person. These are:

  1. If you created the danger out of your own negligence

    1. N.C.G.S. 20-166(b) creates a duty to stop for the driver of a vehicle who knows or reasonably should know that 1) their car was in a crash and 2) that the crash resulted in serious bodily injury to any person. The driver in such a case has a duty to immediately stop their vehicle and give anyone injured in the crash reasonable assistance. This includes calling for medical assistance if the injured person requests or it is obviously needed. Failure to do so is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 120 days in jail. You could also be subject to civil liability for a wrongful death or damages suit in this situation.

    2. Other situations: North Carolina follows a reasonable/ordinary care standard in determining negligence issues. Every person has a duty to exercise ordinary care to protect themselves and other people from injury. If a person does not exercise ordinary care, they are negligent. Attempting to mitigate damages once you created a danger can sometimes help reduce liability.

  2. If you already started to rescue a person

    1. Once you start, you generally have a duty to reasonably follow through with a rescue attempt. A reckless or abandoned attempt at rescue that leaves the person worse off than they were before your intervention can leave you liable in a personal injury suit.

  3. If you have a special relationship with the person

    1. Certain types of relationships can trigger a duty to rescue, such as those of school-student and parent-child.

Many states have laws similar to North Carolina’s as a matter of public policy. In a select few states, there are laws that further require people to help strangers in need of rescue. The duty that most of these laws impose on individuals is usually a very limited one to call the police if he or she witnesses a serious crime such as rape or murder and can get help without endangering themselves.

When the Law Says You Can’t Be Sued for Trying to Help and…Not Helping

Many states have specifically enacted so-called “Good Samaritan” laws that protect a person from liability if they make a reasonable effort to help someone. These laws are largely designed to remove the fear that can discourage people from stepping in and helping someone when they witness an accident or emergency. Although North Carolina law requires a person to assist victims injured in a car crash that person caused, the statute also limits liability for emergency aid given at car crash sites.

  • N.C.G.S. 20-166(d) provides that any person who does give emergency or first aid assistance at the scene of a motor vehicle crash cannot be liable for personal injury or other civil damages if their acts or failure to act causes further injury to the person, unless the behavior was grossly negligent (a high standard) or intentional.

    • N.C.G.S. 90-21.14 similarly limits the liability for volunteer health care or medical workers who receive no compensation for their services if immediate health care treatment was necessary to mitigate serious further injury or save the life of the person. Volunteer medical workers will not be liable for personal injury or other civil damages unless their behavior was grossly negligent or intentional wrongdoing.

      • This applies to rescue squad workers, community health center volunteers, and the emergency treatment of athletic team members

      • This law does not apply to paid medical professionals acting within the normal course of their profession. I.e., this does not limit the liability of a surgeon operating on you who makes a mistake.

When the Law Says You Can’t Be Prosecuted for Trying to Help

As of 2013 North Carolina has also had a Good Samaritan statute that protects individuals from criminal liability. The law was designed to encourage individuals to call 911 in the event of drug or alcohol overdose. It provides a person who witnesses an overdose with limited criminal immunity if they are under the legal drinking age or have small amounts of drugs and call 911. It also protects an underage victim of an alcohol overdose from prosecution for underage drinking.

Changes to the law in 2015 now require the 911 caller to provide their names in order to receive immunity.

If you have a personal injury issue, it is vital to speak with an experienced attorney used to handling similar claims. Arnold & Smith, PLLC is a civil and criminal litigation firm based in Charlotte, North Carolina with years of dedication and experience. Contact us today for a free initial consultation about your case.

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