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Would Be Rescuers Beware; Florida Good Samaritan Rescuer Doctrine

In the last several days all of the national media has been focused on the death of a New York subway commuter who was apparently pushed onto the subway tracks by a homeless man while a photographer nearby was too busy taking pictures to render aid and assistance which may have saved his life. The man was struck by the train and died while the photographer snapped pictures despite the urgent and compelling need for outside help and intervention.

As a general rule, a bystander who is not culpable in creating the circumstance has no affirmative duty to step forward and render any aid or assistance to someone in trouble. This is not to say one shouldn’t render aid or assistance to help others in a perilous situation but there is no legal or statutory duty. We must all look inward to our ethics, personal and religious beliefs in deciding to put ourselves in harm’s way to help others in trouble.

Generally, Floridians only need to look to Florida Statutes 768.13 which provides that an innocent bystander who comes upon an accident scene or upon injured persons is under no legal duty to do anything to aid or assist the victim. To help encourage Floridians to be better citizens and to encourage rescue and assistance, they enacted F.S. 768.13. This ‘Good Samaritan’ statute insulates and protects people who, while under no duty, step up and rescue a stranded motorist, an injured boater or any inured or imperiled person. The Statute gives a qualified grant of immunity for any civil liability to someone who intervenes to render aid, assistance or offer any type of rescue to an injured Floridian, who through an error or simple mistake creates additional injury or damage.

The only liability which may arise is when the Rescuer tried to assist and was reckless in offering aid or assistance. Average citizens are not expert rescuers; the Legislature was smart in enacting this law. It rightly encourages prudent rescue to help the victim and encourages others to step in and protects them from claims of damage by the victims they seek to help. It is only when the Rescuer is grossly negligent or ‘reckless’ that the immunity may cease and civil liability will be an issue for a jury.

Gibbs & Parnell encourages everyone during the holiday season to be safe, wear your seat belts, do not text and drive and always use due care to avoid accidents. If you come upon an accident or a situation where there are people in danger, do the right thing; help your friends and neighbors and most of all be careful and enjoy a safe Holiday Season. Happy Holidays!

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