Today I will discuss the rescuer’sdutyofcare,whichwillinvolveananalysisofthe legalconceptofdutyofcare and accompanyingideassuchas thestandardofcare. I will also talk about the duty of care that is owed to a rescuer.
Forourpurposestoday,theterm ‘rescuers’ispotentiallyconfusingasthelawtalks aboutrescuersmorebroadlythantheonecontextoftrainedlifesavers, lifeguards or firstaiders. Rescuers,as farasthelawisconcerned,arepeoplewhorenderassistance toaperson introubleandthatmaybeinanynumberofcircumstances. Toaddmore complexity,Australian lawdistinguishesbetweenrescuersvolunteering for a communityorganisationandrescuersoftheGoodSamaritanvariety. Thatleavesa third category, namely, that of ‘professional’ rescuers – persons engaged by certain organisations, to perform the role of rescuer.
Thelawofnegligenceimposesadutyonusall totakecaresoastoavoidinjury,loss ordamagetoanother. LordAtkinoftheHouseofLordsdescribedthisdutyinthe seminal case of Donoghue v Stevenson, and I quote: Youmusttakereasonablecaretoavoidactsoromissionswhichyoucan reasonable forsee would be likely to injure your neighbour.1
*I would like toacknowledge theresearchand drafting assistance provided by my Associate, Ms Anna
1Donoghue vStevenson AC562 at 580.
With that knowledge, a common question arises, inquiring whether thereisadutyto rescue. Doesthepasser-bywhohearsacallofdistressemanatingfrom aburning buildinghavealegaldutytodowhatthey cantorenderassistanceorrescuethosein trouble?
A DUTYTO RESCUE?
To quote Lord Nicholls of the House of Lords:
…the bystander does not owe the drowning child or the heedless pedestrian a duty to take steps to save him. Something more is required than being a bystander. There must be some additional reason why it is fair and reasonablethatonepersonshouldberegarded ashisbrother’skeeperand have legal obligations in that regard.2
Under the common law, there is no duty onthe ordinary citizen to rescue another citizen.3 Theremaywellbeamoraldutyorasocialexpectationtogotoanother’s aid, however there is no legal duty to rescue. The law ‘casts no duty upon a man to go to the aid of another who is in peril or distress, not caused by him’.4
This last point indicates the first of two exceptions to the general rule; namely, there is adutytorescuewherethedangeris createdbytherescuerthemselves.5 Forexample, amotoristwhosecaris brokendownandunlitonaroadway,owesadutyof careto other motorists and should remove the hazard or warn of its presence.6 Secondly,adutytorescuemayarisefrom therelationshipthatexistsbetweenthe rescuerand theendangered.7 Thatrelationshipischaracterisedbytrustand responsibilityandresultsin adutytoactincertaincircumstances. Commonexamples