Refusing to help a critically injured person. Is it illegal?

Out of curiosity, if someone is critically injured (say hit by a car and laying on the side of the road) and in dire need of assistance, would it be illegal in most states to drive by, ignore them and go about your business if you are the only one in the immediate vicinity that could help them, or not?

IANAL, nor do I play one on TV.

I was taught in an undergrad pre-law course that there is no legal ‘duty to rescue’. Evidently, in most jurisdictions, passersby are protected even from civil actions arising from their failure to aid a victim when they were not connected with the situation that led to the injury. The reason was that, if someone tried to help and made the situation worse, they could be sued; hence, they should always have the ‘don’t do anything’ safety out.

There are some jurisdicitions that mandate that one assist others in emergency circumstances to the best of his or her ability. Known as Good Samaritan Laws, it requires those who witness a person in grave danger to himself and others to rescue the person when the opportunity presents itself. If you cannot swim, and ther eaer no other resources available, you are not expected to save a person drowning in the middle of a lake. But if you can swim, not only you should, you must.

Um, no, I don’t think that’s what the Good Samaritan Law says.

It was enacted to protect “just passing by” medical personnel from lawsuits, should they decide to help that critically injured person.

If it were illegal NOT to help, we wouldn’t have needed this law to protect people who DO help.

I doubt whether it could be illegal NOT to help, because that would mean that the State was requiring everybody to help everybody else, and I don’t see how the State can do that. You might have deep religious objections to helping that critically injured person, and how could the State require you to help him?

And if so, then the thirty-some people who stood by while Kitty Genovese was killed would all have been prosecuted, and they weren’t, AFAIK.

What about that Connecticut “must assist” law that figured in the final Seinfeld episode. Is it still in effect?

I think we’re mixing quite a few apples and oranges here.

If you did not contribute to the injuries of the victim in any way, you are under no legal obligation to assist them. However, there may be state-by-state exceptions, based upon selected classes of people, i.e., police officers, EMTs, etc., who are obligated to assist whether they are “on duty” at the time or not.

(I am also aware of some of those “selected classes” who take great pains not to make themselves known who they are in their off-duty hours for just this reason. I know of many EMTs, paramedics and fire-fighters who removed their EMT and FD stickers from their private vehicles. Under their license, they cannot pass the scene of an accident without offering assistance, on or off duty. With an emergency sticker on their vehicle, they could be reported to authorities if they just drove by. It sounds callous, but many just do not want to help anyone all the time. Unless you’ve been there, you may not fully comprehend this.)

OTOH, good samaritan laws protect individuals from liability when they volunteer assistance, based upon their personal knowlege and skills. Thus an average person who has first aid training and offers to help is protected under the law at one level, while a trained medical professional – doctor, etc., – is held to a higher standard of aid, but still protected under the law as long as their assistance is voluntary as a private individual.

Of course, some states apparently are not enlighted and only have good samaritan laws to protect “offical” medical personnel, as one posts lists for the State of Missouri. However, I don’t think a private individual first first aid training would not be protected under that same law if push came to shove. If they didn’t you would have quite a few private individuals being sued and losing in Missouri courts.

It might not be against the law…but could you live with yourself?

To put it even more bluntly than has been already said: at common law, absent any statute to the contrary, if you didn’t put the person in their predicament, and no special relationship existed between you and the pesron (parent/child, innkeeper/guest, etc.), there is no duty to rescue someone even if you could do so at no risk to yourself (however, once you begin to render aid, you have a duty to reasonably follow through).

You’re walking past the pool. Person drowning. There’s a life preserver right there you could easily throw to them. Instead of saving them, you sit down and drinik a mint julep while watching said person drown. At common law, no crime, no liability. Strange but true.

Lots of people could. There are innumerable instances where someone’s yelling HELP but nobody comes to their aid. “I didn’t want to get involved” is the stereotypical answer. People are capable of doing all kinds of bad things for no real reason, why shouldn’t they be capable of walking past someone drowning in a pool (etc.) without feeling any remorse?

Now, I couldn’t, mind you.

In France…

“…the Good Samaritan Law … a legal obligation in France upon onlookers to an accident to help someone in danger. You have an obligation in France to stop, call for help, and if you can–without endangering yourself–assist someone in danger. The law says that you must do that…”

About halfway down this interview on French law in the wake of Princess Diana’s death…

Pravnik mentions one aspect of the Good Samaritan Laws that many people don’t realize. While it’s true you can refuse to assist someone at all, in many localities if you begin assisting someone in an emergency you are then obligated to continue to offer reasonable assistance.

quote]In France…

“…the Good Samaritan Law … a legal obligation in France upon onlookers to an accident to help someone in danger. You have an obligation in France to stop, call for help, and if you can–without endangering yourself–assist someone in danger. The law says that you must do that…”

Indeed…here the exact wording of the law (article 223-6 of the “code penal”)

" Quiconque pouvant empêcher par son action immédiate, sans risque pour lui ou pour un tiers, soit un crime, soit un délit contre l’intégrité corporelle de la personne, s’abstient volontairement de le faire, est puni de sept ans d’emprisonnement et de 700 000 F d’amende.

Sera passible des mêmes peines quiconque s’abstient volontairement de porter à une personne en péril l’assistanceque, sans risque pour lui ou pour le tiers, il pouvait lui porter soit par son action personnelle,soit en provoquant un secours."

Ankward translation :
Anybody who could prevent, by his immediate action, without risk for him or another person, a crime [don’t know how to translate that…a crime involving wounds, or a murder, possibly a rape] and willingly abstains from doing so shall be sentenced to [up to] 7 years in prison and fined [roughly a 100 000 $ fine]

Anybody who willingly abstains from giving to a person in danger, the assistance that, without risk for himself or for another person, he could give him, either by his own action, either by obtaining help shall receive the same punishment.

This is called “non assistance a personne en danger” and this concept is pretty much universally known here. It’s often invoked when people hear about some example of selfishness, but rarely applied since it’s more restrictive than most people think (a situation can often be constructed as presenting an apparent risk for yourself).

Nevertheless, the guy who wouldn’t at least warn the authorities when seing a badly injured person on the road or would drink his cocktail while someone is drowing could certainly be prosecuted on this basis. But likely, in the former case, the sentence wouldn’t be extremely harsh. Actually, it’s often used by prosecutors when someone knowingly let someone else die or be victim of a crime and has some obvious “moral responsability” in the death/victimization which can’t legally be constructed as an actual (or serious enough) criminal offense.

I personnally can’t see any issue with this law (and actually, I assumed it was pretty much universal…I was surprised to read in this thread that there was no similar law in the US). Someone refers to a hypothetical person whose religion would forbid helping someone else, but I’ve a hard time constructing an actual example of that. “God wanted him to die and I can’t oppose the will of god”? :confused: And anyway, it seems to me religion would be a very lame excuse. Going that way, what if my religion tells I must drink before driving and forbids me to stop when a cop wants me to do so, for instance?

I suspect it’s somewhat related to some american philosophy of law which would consider that requiring a person to do something (as opposed to forbidding to do something) goes against individual rights. Any clue about that?

Anyway, I’m extremely happy that such a law exists here (I would be seriously pissed off if someone could just ignore the critically injured person on the road and get by with that), and can’t figure out a good reason to oppose it.

In Scotland there is no duty to help a person in need, unless you are the person responsible for his predicament.

I think the American phrase would be “a crime of violence against a person”. The more literal “crime against a person’s bodily integrity” would be understood, but wouldn’t be a common way to phrase it.

Maybe the religion issue was thrown up because in America things are permitted in the name of religion that aren’t permitted due to anything else. Even so, I can’t recall a religion that forbids rendering aid to the injured or helpless.

Oh, wait - Christian Scientists believe in the power of prayer over medical science. So their idea of “rendering aid” might be to stop and pray, rather than call for help. But the legal limits of their actions (or non-actions) are always being dragged through the courts.

I think it’s more likely that we haven’t had a need for such a law until recently. Despite some well-publicized incidents, Americans generally rush in to help. In the last two years in the Chicago area I recall hearing about a half dozen strangers who rushed into burning buildings to rescue people, and at least one incident where a bystander dove into Lake Michigan to rescue a woman who’s motorized wheelchair had fallen in. Even in “bad” urban neighborhoods far more people are likely to help you than hurt you.

It’s only with the rise of lawyers who have urged people to sue those who try to help that citizens have become at all reluctant to help out. After all, no one wants to be punished for doing good. Hence the passage of “good samaritan” laws.

My experience as an American who has lived in many regions of the country, including some like Detroit, Michigan, and Gary, Indiana which have a reputation as dangerous urban areas is that 999 out of 1000, if you get into a bad situation you’re more likely to have more help than you need rather than not enough.

You have no affirmative obligation to assist an injured or ill person. However, if a passing citizen stops to render aid, he opens himself up to civil liability for the victim’s injuries or illness. It doesn’t matter if the victim would have died without help, or even that the rescuer is a medical professional. To reduce the possibly of lawsuits, good samaritan laws have been written to exempt a potential rescuer from liability even if aid was rendered in a manner other than what would normally be recommended by a doctor, excepting gross negligence. Rescuers can still be sued, but to my knowledge, no one has been successfully sued since states began adopting good samaritan laws.

Still, defending yourself in a lawsuit is expensive. Handling the victim should be a last resort. Call the 911 instead.

I’d be surprised to learn that the law in that “Seinfeld” episode wasn’t made up.

Actually, it predates the United States, being derived from English common law. The common law didn’t impose a duty to assist on individuals in this situation, and that principle was exported to the various British colonies that inherited the common law. It’s subject to change by the legislature in each jurisdiction, of course.

I Washington state, it is against the law to not assist an injured person. The minimum help required is to notify police/fire/rescue as soon as possible. This law was the result of a high school student that was severly beaten and left in a ditch. Over a 3 day period, it was estimated over 200 people, from grade school kids to adults, came by to look at the young man. Even those that came by late on the third day said he was still alive and calling for help. By the time help was called, he was dead. The law does state that the finder does not have to put themselves in peril, just notify someone.

Im in California & on thursday I was sitting outside a restaurant & right in front of me about 50 feet
a woman got hit by a car. I went in & told the manager to call 911. But I didn’t assist her & the cops
came & the FD & Etc, & no one even asked me for a statement let alone arrest me for not
doing anything. Of course, though, there were people there around her in a few seconds.

There wasn’t a lot I could so since she was knocked out for a few minutes & even if she came
to, what would I do? Say: ‘Here is some paper & a pencil, Im deaf, write down how you feel…’

I’m confused as to why Duck Duck Goose is using a different definition of “Good Samaritan law” than the one commonly used. Of course, there are different versions of it, but most people think of the one akin to the French one that became well known after P Di’s death.

The law from the Seinfeld episode is Massachusetts General Law Chapter 268, Section 40: Reports of crimes to law enforcement officials.