The Chicago Personal Injury Law Blog

Good Samaritan Laws vs. the Duty to Rescue

When most people think about “Good Samaritan” laws, they’re reminded of the final episode of Seinfeld, in which Jerry and the gang are incarcerated for laughing at, rather than helping, a man who’s being robbed at gunpoint. While most states have Good Samaritan laws, they serve an entirely different purpose than the law in the Seinfeld finale.

In fact, the legal concept depicted in the Seinfeld episode isn’t a Good Samaritan law at all but the duty to rescue. Generally, there is no duty to rescue - meaning you’re in no way legally obligated to aid someone in need of help. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule.

Here are the three situations in which you have a duty to rescue:

  • You Created the Danger: If you put another person in danger, due to your own negligence, you generally have a duty to rescue that person.
  • Once You Start, You Can’t Stop: Once you start to rescue someone, you generally have a duty to reasonably follow through.
  • Special Relationship: If you have a special relationship with the person in danger, you likely have a duty to rescue them. This includes school-student and employer-employee relationships.

If you fail to rescue someone in any of the above circumstances, you may be held liable for their injuries in a personal injury suit.

Illinois, like other states, has no law requiring an individual to render aid to someone who’s in peril. Instead, Illinois’ Good Samaritan Act, like those of most states, protects people who offer aid in emergency situations from legal liability. For example, if a person who nearly drowned suffers bruised ribs as a result of CPR, the Act prevents the person from suing the lifeguard who performed the CPR.

The Act protects Good Samaritans in a number of situations, including offering emergency telephone instructions, providing CPR, and performing the Heimlich maneuver on someone who’s choking. In most situations, however, the defendant must be qualified to perform the services. For instance, in order to be protected from liability for injuries incurred while performing CPR, the Good Samaritan must be trained in CPR.

Don’t let the Seinfeld finale confuse you. Remember: while the duty to rescue requires you to help in the three situations above, Good Samaritan laws protect you from liability once you offer aid.

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