The Duty To Rescue, or How Kind Are Strangers?

The absence of a generalized duty to rescue is a perennial feature of the first year of law school. Generations of law students have learned of the existence of the no-duty rule by reading hypothetical cases of babies who drowned in puddles while Olympic swimmers stood by and did nothing, and real cases, such as Yania v. Bigan and Kitty Genovese in which bystanders did not intervene or notify the police when someone required rescue — with tragic results. The no-duty rule prevails in most of the United States, but it is not popular. As I noted in an 2006 article in the Texas Law Review, incidents of non-rescue seem to result in a predictable cascade of events:

When a case of non-rescue becomes public, newspaper editorials and television commentators will denounce the indifference of bystanders. If the non-rescuers can be identified, they will be held up to public scorn. The responsible district attorney will reluctantly acknowledge that the criminal law is powerless in such cases while condemning the non-rescuers on moral grounds. If a tort case is actually brought against a non-rescuer, the judge will throw it out, but note that the non-rescuer must answer to God for failing to act. Politicians will introduce legislation reversing the common law rule. Comparisons will be drawn to other infamous cases of non-rescue, such as Kitty Genovese.

In short order, academic conferences and symposia will be held at which speakers will criticize the no-duty rule and the indifference of bystanders. Communitarians will suggest that Americans are insufficiently civic minded. Social meaning scholars will suggest that the no-duty rule is sending the wrong

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes