“Danger invites Rescue.” A lot of lawyers confuse the Rescuer Doctrine with the Good Samaritan Doctrine, so I thought we would explore them and draw the distinction. The most basic distinction is one is a sword and one is a shield. The Rescuer Doctrine allows you to sue the original wrongdoer if you go to save someone who has been put in danger by the negligence of another. Imagine that a person causes a car crash and you stop to help the victims and are then hit yourself. You have a cause of action against whomever negligently caused the original crash. On the other hand, the Good Samaritan Doctrine is a shield that protects you from being sued if you go help or rescue someone.
Let’s explore further.
Under general negligence principles in Georgia, the Rescue Doctrine may come into play in certain situations. The Rescue Doctrine recognizes that a person who is injured while attempting to rescue or aid someone in danger may have a valid claim against the party whose negligence caused the initial peril.
The Rescue Doctrine in Georgia
In Georgia, to establish a claim under the Rescue Doctrine, the following elements may need to be proven:
1. Existence of a Duty: The party being sued must owe a duty of care to the person in need of rescue. This duty typically arises from a legal obligation or relationship, such as a property owner’s duty to maintain safe premises or a driver’s duty to operate a vehicle safely.
2. Breach of Duty: The party being sued must have breached their duty of care, meaning they failed to act reasonably or negligently, leading to the dangerous situation.
3. Causation: The breach of duty by the party being sued must be the direct cause of the peril or emergency situation that necessitated the rescue attempt.
4. Reasonable Rescue Attempt: The rescuer must have acted reasonably and prudently in their rescue attempt. This means that their actions should be evaluated based on what a reasonable person would do in similar circumstances.
Georgia cases have put it thusly;
“Liability in rescue cases is predicated upon a defendant’s conduct in negligently creating the peril which inspired the attempted rescue. [T]he doctrine has no application where the defendant’s conduct was not negligent or a tortious wrong.” (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Montega Corp. v. Grooms , 128 Ga. App. 333, 340 (8) (c), 196 S.E.2d 459 (1973)
Keisha, LLC v. Dundon, 809 S.E.2d 835, 838 (Ga. Ct. App. 2018)
Let’s talk about some examples though. What if your dog gets into a fight with another dog who is off leash and you go to separate them to protect your dog and get bitten. Can you sue the other dog’s owner even though you walked toward the trouble?
Probably. You were trying to rescue your dog from a situation where their negligence in not controlling their dog on leash created the danger and you were hurt as a result.
The Good Samaritan Doctrine in Georgia
The Good Samaritan legal doctrine in Georgia, provides legal protection to anyone who gives emergency care or assistance to someone in danger. The idea is we want Good Samaritans jumping up to help without worrying about being sued if they screw it up.
Under Georgia law, specifically O.C.G.A. § 51-1-29, any person who in good faith renders emergency care at the scene of an accident, medical emergency, or disaster, is immune from civil liability for any injuries or damages as long as they act in a reasonable manner. Think, they threw gasoline on someone who was on fire to save them; not reasonable but they broke ribs doing chest compressions; that’s reasonable.
To qualify for protection under the Good Samaritan Law in Georgia, the following conditions generally apply:
1. The care or assistance must be provided at the scene of an accident, medical emergency, or disaster.
2. The care or assistance must be provided in good faith, meaning the person rendering aid genuinely believes they are helping and not causing harm.
3. The care or assistance must be provided without compensation, unless the person rendering aid is a healthcare professional acting within the scope of their employment.
4. The care or assistance must be provided in a reasonable and prudent manner, considering the circumstances and the person’s level of training or expertise.