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Do Witnesses Have A Legal Duty To Help Victims of Violence?

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Article 16-18

¡No Se Deje!

Two incidents of horrifying rapes caused public outrage and anger at reports that witnesses refused and failed to help the victims.  In the first case, a 15 year old girl was raped, beaten and robbed by at least 7 males.  The attack continued for more than 2 hours.  It was reported that more than a dozen witnesses passed by and did nothing to help.  In the second case, a 26 year old woman was raped on a public street in broad daylight while 2 cars passed by and observed the attack and did nothing to help the victim.  She reported that she screamed for help and that several drivers saw the attack.  Someone eventually called police.  As a result of these and many other cases, the public naturally asks if the passive and unhelpful witnesses can be punished either under Civil or Criminal laws.

 

American law does not generally impose witnesses a duty to rescue or assist someone in peril unless they created the hazardous condition.  And, a legal duty to rescue someone can also exist when there is a special relationship with the victim.  Parents and people who have a supervisory relationship to children, like school personnel and babysitters, do have a legal duty to rescue them from harm.  Other relationships that create legal duties include:  Emergency workers like police and medical personnel to members of the public, common carriers like trains, planes, buses and taxicabs to their passengers, employers to their employees and spouses to each other.  The states of Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin do have laws that impose a duty to rescue strangers in peril but they are rarely enforced.  Calling the police for help usually satisfies the requirement to assist victims.

 

People who undertake to rescue someone in peril must do so with reasonable care and in some states can be held liable for injuries or death caused by a negligent rescue attempt.  Most states provide immunity from liability, especially for emergency workers.  And, no one is ever required to endanger his health or life to rescue someone.

 

One California Judge said “It is not proper for government to force people to be benevolent.  Individuals cannot legally be forced to give up some liberty to benefit another, no matter how little the cost or great the benefit.  There may be a moral duty, but that decision is left to each person’s conscience.”

 

While American law does not impose a duty to rescue, many countries do.  Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Russia, Spain and many others have such laws.  In France, photographers at the scene of the auto accident that killed Princes Diana were in danger of prosecution for the crime of “deliberately failing to provide assistance to a person in danger.”  If convicted, they could have been sent to prison for up to 5 years and fined up to 100,000 Euros ($112,670.00 USD).

 

Without “Duty to Rescue” laws, victims can only hope that bystanders who witness their peril will do what is morally right and help them. ¡NO SE DEJE! ®

 

Jess J. Araujo, Esq.