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Duty to Rescue

If you have ever seen anyone in distress in Waxhaw, you may wonder if you are required to help. In North Carolina, as well as most states across the nation, there is no general legal duty to come to another’s aid. That being said, there are a few exceptions under state law where failure to assist a person in need can result in criminal charges or civil liability. The state also has laws on the books that limits an individual’s legal liability when he or she attempts to help another person in an emergency situation.

When You Must Help Others

Under state law, there is a reasonable or ordinary care standard that is used when determining negligence. Everyone has a general duty to exercise ordinary care to protect themselves, as well as others, from harm and/or injury. When a person fails to exercise ordinary care, he or she is negligent. Indeed, if you try to mitigate or lessen damages once you have created a danger, your liability may be reduced.

North Carolina law states three general scenarios in which there is a duty to attempt to rescue another person.

First, if you created the danger due to your own behavior, you are required to help the others. When you are involved in a car accident that resulted in bodily injury to another, the law mandates that you immediately stop your vehicle and give anyone who is hurt in the crash reasonable assistance. This includes calling for emergency medical assistance if the other person is in need of it or asks for it. Failure to do so is considered a Class 1 misdemeanor, and is punishable by up to 120 days of jail time. Beyond criminal charges and penalties, a person who fails to assist may face civil liability for personal injury or wrongful death damages.

Second, if you began to rescue someone, you have a general duty to reasonably follow through with your rescue attempt. If your attempt to rescue is reckless or you abandon it altogether, and you leave the person worse off than before you started the attempt to rescue, you can be held financially liable in a personal injury claim.

Third, there are certain types of relationships that trigger a duty to rescue. These include those between the school and the student as well as the parent and the child.

Several states across the nation have enacted laws similar to those in North Carolina, as a matter of public policy. A few states, however, have passed legislation that impose an extra duty - requiring individuals to help strangers in need of rescue. Generally, the duty imposed is limited to contacting the police when he or she witnesses a serious crime and can seek out help without putting themselves in danger.

Limited Liability and Good Samaritans

There are also several states that have passed “Good Samaritan” laws, protecting an individual from liability if he or she makes reasonable efforts to assist someone in danger. The underlying purpose of these laws is to remove the fear that will likely discourage people from assisting others when they witness an accident, crime, or other emergency. While state law requires you to assist victims who are injured in a car accident that you caused, the law also limits liability for emergency aid that is given at a car crash accident scene. Specifically, legislation provides that anyone who renders emergency assistance or first aid at the crash scene cannot be held liable for personal injury or other damages the victim suffers. This includes acts or failures to act by the individual that causes further injury to the victim. The exception to this, however, is grossly negligent or intentional harm.

North Carolina law similarly limits liability imposed on a volunteer health care or medical workers who are not paid for their services if the emergency treatment was necessary to reduce further serious injury or save the individual’s life. These volunteer workers will not be held legally responsible for damages unless they were grossly negligent or intentionally did wrong. This limited liability does not apply to paid medical professionals acting within the normal course of their profession.

North Carolina passed its own “Good Samaritan” statute in 2013, which protects individuals from criminal liability when coming to the rescue of others. Like other similar laws, the statute was designed to encourage individuals to contact 911 in the event of an overdose involving drugs or alcohol. This law provides witnesses to an overdose limited criminal immunity if they are under the legal drinking age or in possession of small amounts of drugs and call 911 for help. This also protects an underage victim who suffered alcohol overdose from being prosecuted for underage drinking, as North Carolina takes a zero-tolerance approach. In 2015, North Carolina changed its laws so that in order for the person to receive criminal immunity, he or she must provide a name to the 911 dispatcher.

If you or someone you know has a personal injury issue, contact an experienced Waxhaw attorney right away. Arnold & Smith, PLLC is a North Carolina-based civil and criminal litigation firm that can help guide you every step of the way.