Superheroes and the Duty to Rescue

We’ve talked before about the duty to rescue, but there are a couple of facets of the issue that we haven’t addressed.  Plus, this issue came up (indirectly) in the most recent episode of Grimm, and we’ll talk about that, too.  First, a brief summary of our prior post.

I. The Story So Far

In general there is no duty to rescue or aid others, so superheroes aren’t on the hook (except perhaps morally) if they decide not to rescue someone, even if they could do so very easily.  However, once a rescue is attempted, a superhero must carry out the rescue with ordinary care.  Similarly, abandoning the rescue partway through may leave the superhero liable.  In short, they don’t have to rescue anybody, but if they try they must do so with reasonable care and they have to follow through.

There is, however, an exception for people in “special relationships.”  For example, parents have an affirmative duty to rescue their children.  However, it is very, very rare that the police or other government workers are considered to have such a special relationship with the victim of a crime or other endangered person, so even superheroes who work with or for the government will rarely be treated differently than if they were working as a private citizen.

Finally, at least five states (Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and Vermont) have passed laws overruling the common law rule in some circumstances.  For example, 12 V.S.A. § 519(a) provides “A person who knows that another is exposed to grave physical harm shall, to the extent that the same can be rendered without danger or peril to himself or without interference with important duties owed to others, give reasonable assistance to the exposed person unless that assistance or care is being provided by others.” (emphasis added).  Not only is this a fairly narrow exception to the common law rule, but the maximum penalty for violating it is a whopping $100 fine.  So while Vermont has pushed back against the common law rule, it hasn’t put a lot of weight behind it.  The other state laws have a similarly narrow scope and enforcement mechanism.

Note, however, that “without danger or peril to himself” part.  A lot of superheroes might get caught by that in situations where ordinary people would have an excuse.  There isn’t much that poses danger or peril to Superman, for example, so unless he owes an important duty to someone else or the imperiled person is already being assisted, Superman might find himself quite busy in Vermont.  This is especially true given that Vermont’s law, unlike the others, doesn’t require the rescuer to be at the scene, merely to “know that another is exposed to grave physical harm.”  Given Superman’s superhearing and other heightened senses, he is probably aware of most such situations in Vermont most of the time.  In fact, Superman should probably just stay out of Vermont entirely.

So those are the basics.  But what about people that are injured during a fight between a superhero and a supervillain?  Does the superhero owe them a duty of rescue or aid?  The answer is…maybe.

II. Injured Bystanders and the Duty to Rescue

The long-held common law rule was that there was a duty to rescue if one was legally responsible for the injury.  “If the actor by his tortious conduct has caused such bodily harm to another as to make him helpless, the actor is under a duty to use reasonable care to prevent any further harm which the actor then realizes or should realize as threatening the other.”  Restatement (First) of Torts § 322 (emphasis added).  Normally, however, superheroes are acting under a legal privilege that allows them to avoid responsibility for a lot of bystander injuries.

For example, suppose Batman throws a gas grenade in order to stop some criminals who are about to attack a civilian, but the wind shifts and the gas causes an injury to a bystander.  Batman would not be liable for that injury unless he realized or should have realized that the gas grenades created an unreasonable risk of causing such harm.  Restatement (Second) of Torts § 75.  No legal responsibility, no duty to rescue.

But the common law has developed, and now many jurisdictions observe a duty to rescue even when the injury was caused non-tortiously.  “If the actor knows or has reason to know that by his conduct, whether tortious or innocent, he has caused such bodily harm to another as to make him helpless and in danger of further harm, the actor is under a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent such further harm.”  Restatement (Second) of Torts § 322 (emphasis added).

So going back to our example: under this new standard, Batman would have a duty of reasonable care to prevent further harm to the helpless bystander even though he was legally privileged to cause the harm in the first place.  Of course, “reasonable care” might mean “very little care” if there are more pressing matters at hand, such as a fleeing supervillain to catch or another group of henchmen about to attack other bystanders.  But if there is no other danger, then Batman may be obligated to at least call 911 or take the injured bystander to the hospital.

This rule means that superheroes would have to be very careful to avoid harm to bystanders, lest they be on the hook for preventing further harm, whether from themselves or from others.

III. Grimm and the Duty to Rescue

On the most recent episode of Grimm  (“Island of Dreams”), Nick’s co-worker Sergeant Wu is poisoned by a magical cookie meant for someone else.  Rather than take Wu to the hospital, Nick leaves him in the care of a Fuchsbau* named Rosalee who remembers seeing her father treat a similar case of poisoning several years ago.  As it happens, she (mostly) successfully treats Wu, who seems mostly unharmed.

* As an aside: the mostly nonsensical, horribly pronounced pseudo-German on that show is really irritating.  Hire a consultant, NBC, seriously.

Here, Rosalee (and to a lesser extent Monroe, who assists her) are in a bit of a bind.  What is reasonable in this situation?  Taking Wu to a regular hospital?  Rosalee assures Nick that the doctors won’t know how to treat the poisoning.  But the alternative doesn’t seem much better.  Rosalee’s knowledge is second-hand at best, and she’s not a trained healthcare worker, even among the creatures of Grimm.  And, of course, if things had gone badly, none of them would have been able to explain what had happened.

Initially, Nick himself doesn’t seem to be in any danger of liability, since having Rosalee treat Wu wasn’t Nick’s idea, and in fact he wanted to take Wu to a hospital at first.  But after Wu recovers somewhat, he helps Rosalee and Monroe take Wu to his house so that he can wake up in a familiar environment.  At that point, Nick became party to the rescue and could be liable if a reasonable person would have taken Wu to the hospital at that point.  And that means a reasonable person who knew only what most people know about the world (i.e., nothing about magical cookies or Grimms).

IV. Conclusion

Superheroes need to know the ins and outs of the duty to rescue and its many exceptions and caveats.  In some states superheroes may even have a limited affirmative duty to rescue others, and in Vermont at least that could be a real problem.  Those $100 fines can add up, and failure to pay them could result in a contempt charge.  In Superman’s case the bad PR would probably be worse than the fine or even the contempt charge, but it’s still something to watch out for.

34 responses to “Superheroes and the Duty to Rescue

  1. crypticmirror

    Wasn’t there a case five years or so back where some woman elected not to leap into a river to try and rescue a kid she didn’t know, and they still tried and convicted her on some duty to rescue charge?

    • I’d be interested in the particular facts of the case. Unfortunately a brief perusal of the Google News archives didn’t turn anything up. Do you remember any other details? Where it happened, maybe?

      • crypticmirror

        Erm, it was in…er…America! I’m sorry I’m not from the states myself so my knowledge of where anything is is limited to either San Francisco (that’s the one with the bridge, right?) and New York, the one where Ghostbusters was set.

        Okay, being serious now, sorry. I could only find the one link myself (although that might be more due to my inability to google coherently).
        http://old.post-gazette.com/pg/05293/591657.stm

      • Thank you, that editorial gave me quite a few leads. So, the woman in the case was the boy’s father’s girlfriend. The prosecution’s theory was that this was sufficient to create a special relationship, giving her an affirmative duty to watch out for the kid. The prosecution also argued that she was liable for failing to keep the kid out of the water in the first place, not just for failing to jump in after him. See this article for more details.

        I think the facts of the case stretch the special relationship doctrine near to breaking, but it at least tries to fit within that pattern. The case doesn’t rest on a general affirmative duty to rescue.

      • crypticmirror

        Ah, glad to see it wasn’t quite as terrifying as I remember. Although I still think it is a bad precedent since the woman in question was a non-swimmer. I recall being told on my rescue & first aid course that primary rule, before anything else was done was “assess the scene and take no action that may add you to the casualty count”. Funnily enough, the example given was don’t jump into water if you cannot swim (or at all if the water looks treacherous), wait for someone with proper rescue equipment. Presumably this was more about her letting the child get near the water a second time though.

  2. Interesting timing on this. I just got out of my CPR/First Aid class for work and the instructor repeatedly pointed out that, when off duty, you were not required to render CPR to anyone in aid, that Pennsylvania law is that a person confronted with someone else in a medical emergency has two obligations, a) to contact emergency services and b) if the scene is not hazardous, to stay with the victim until emergency services arrived. In fact, he recommended against doing CPR unless you had all of your protective gear on you because “1 out of every 10 people is carrying something nasty that they won’t tell you about even if they could” (he was very fond of the “1 out of 10” statistic for nasty surprises from bloodborne illnesses to patients stabbing you upon waking to non-responsive bystanders who refuse to call 911 while you’re doing CPR).

  3. James Pollock

    Regarding the first section… in a state with an affirmative duty to rescue, Superman is absolutely immune, and the “without danger” element is immaterial. As Superman, he ALWAYS has a duty to rescue someone else (even if the someone else is not detectable to anyone near a person in need of rescue, Supes’ super-senses assure that he can always hear someone else in need of rescue.

    How does the state clear this statute with the 13th amendment? Being compelled by the state to come to someone else’s aid seems like it would be “involuntary”. Do they consider it analogous to being drafted to military service or to jury duty, or is there a different legal angle that I’m not seeing?

    • Absolutely immune? That’s not really the right phrase. He’s not immune from suit. Rather, he might have a good defense.

      As Superman, he ALWAYS has a duty to rescue someone else

      I don’t think the law would accept the Buridan’s ass defense (i.e. since Superman can’t rationally choose between two or more potential rescuees, he has no duty to rescue either one of them). I think the answer would be “he should pick one at random and then move on to the next.”

      Note that the other states require that the rescuer be at the scene before the duty to rescue kicks in. Only Vermont would be problematic for Superman in this way.

      How does the state clear this statute with the 13th amendment?

      “The primary purpose of the Amendment was to abolish the institution of African slavery as it had existed in the United States at the time of the Civil War, but the Amendment was not limited to that purpose; the phrase ‘involuntary servitude’ was intended to extend ‘to cover those forms of compulsory labor akin to African slavery which in practical operation would tend to produce like undesirable results.'” U.S. v. Kozminski, 487 U.S. 931, 942 (1988).

      I think that a narrow duty to rescue, backed up by a modest fine, is nothing like African slavery and would not produce like undesirable results.

      • James Pollock

        So, if Superman enters Vermont (or Vermont’s airspace, he can never legally leave until everyone needing rescue has been rescued? And you don’t see that as anything like African slavery?

      • He could pay the fines as an alternative. Since the fine is up to $100, I think it’s likely that he wouldn’t be fined the full amount or even anything at all past the first few charges.

        And he has some defenses against being trapped in Vermont forever. At some point “other important duties” would surely kick in. Also, more importantly, the fine only applies to those who “willfully violate” the law. I can’t find a case construing “willfully” in this context, but in other contexts Vermont courts have held that it means something “darker” than intentional (e.g. “a deliberate and evil intention”). Assuming that definition applies in this case (and I don’t know that it does), then Superman wouldn’t be liable unless he callously ignored someone in danger or something to that effect.

      • James Pollock

        But there are so many other interesting questions: Is there a longarm element that lets the state nail people who decline to cross the state line to come to someone’s aid? If Superman doesn’t HAVE $100 because of the “no pockets” thing, can he be jailed for not paying the fine?
        What, if anything, is the penalty for falsely claiming a duty elsewhere to leave the scene of a potential rescue. Is it a defense to say either “I didn’t think he needed help” or “I thought it was better for him to help himself” (i.e., tough love).
        Mostly, though, I’d like to shift gears… how would this law affect Power Man and Iron Fist (Heroes for Hire) or the current iteration of X-Factor (i.e., those who do heroing and rescuing as a business for paying customers)?

    • Exploring it a bit further, Superman (on occasion at least) is shown to be able to hear crimes and violence occurring all over the world. Even by conservative estimates I suspect that there are simply too many crimes occurring across the planet for even Superman to possibly be able to handle every single one (not even getting into jurisdictional issues).

      As for statutes and compulsion, it’s different from the draft and responsibilities to serve the nation. All it requires is what help could be reasonably and safely given which can be as little as calling 911.

  4. “And that means a reasonable person who knew only what most people know about the world (i.e., nothing about magical cookies or Grimms).”

    What is the law behind this statement? The reasonable person standard does not disregard the actual knowledge possessed by a defendant. We don’t say: “Well, this nuclear physicist knew how the reactor worked, but a reasonable person wouldn’t know that and would have called the USAEC. Verdict for plaintiff.” or “Of course, this surgeon knew how to set the leg, but a reasonable person wouldn’t know that and would have called 911. Verdict for plaintiff.” As I read your formulation, it would penalize these defendants for their knowledge by saying they should have acted as though they didn’t have it. That’s backwards.

    • You misunderstand me. Since Nick, Rosalee, and Monroe can’t tell the truth about what happened, they would be judged from the standpoint of a reasonable person who didn’t know anything about Grimms and so forth. If they could tell the truth (e.g. about magical poisoned cookies and the herbal treatment they used), then sure, their actions would be judged on that basis.

      • If they DID explain the whole truth, and the obvious “are you NUTS?” expressions crossed all the faces in the court room, would their ability to pass a lie detector test to demonstrate they honestly believe this be sufficient for an insanity plea?

        Or, if not an insanity plea, at least enough to demonstrate that, in their state of mind at the time (and even still now), they honestly believed they were doing the best they could for the victim?

        Going with the “reasonable man” standard, if Superman had an honest reason to believe that somebody else was Kryptonian, to the point that he was convinced, beyond his personal doubt, that said person was bullet-proof, would he have the “duty to rescue” even in Vermont when he sees somebody level a gun at this person? Would he be found to have violated that duty on a “reasonable man” standard when he mistakenly assumed that this man was Kryptonian, and not human?

      • Insanity is a criminal defense, whereas the duty to rescue is an aspect of negligence (i.e. torts). Mental deficiency is generally not a defense to negligence. “Unless the actor is a child, his insanity or other mental deficiency does not relieve the actor from liability for conduct which does not conform to the standard of a reasonable man under like circumstances.” Restatement (Second) of Torts § 283B.

        Or, if not an insanity plea, at least enough to demonstrate that, in their state of mind at the time (and even still now), they honestly believed they were doing the best they could for the victim?

        The thing about the “reasonable person” standard is that it is an objective test. A key phrase is “known or should have known.” In this case, the jury could easily find that Nick, Rosalee, and Monroe should have known to take Wu to a hospital.

        Going with the “reasonable man” standard, if Superman had an honest reason to believe that somebody else was Kryptonian, to the point that he was convinced, beyond his personal doubt, that said person was bullet-proof, would he have the “duty to rescue” even in Vermont when he sees somebody level a gun at this person? Would he be found to have violated that duty on a “reasonable man” standard when he mistakenly assumed that this man was Kryptonian, and not human?

        The Vermont statute imposes a duty to rescue, but it’s ultimately a kind of penal statute (hence the fine paid to the state instead of a cause of action brought by the victim). It’s important not to confuse the elements of the statute with the common law rules. The statute requires that the person “knows that another is exposed to grave physical harm.” There’s no reasonable person standard there: either Superman knew it or he didn’t, and in this case he didn’t (there is a potential exception for willful blindness or intentional ignorance, which can sometimes be construed as knowledge).

        The reasonable person standard comes into play once assistance is rendered (“give reasonable assistance to the exposed person unless that assistance or care is being provided by others”).

      • Martin Phipps

        The thing about the “reasonable person” standard is that it is an objective test. A key phrase is “known or should have known.” In this case, the jury could easily find that Nick, Rosalee, and Monroe should have known to take Wu to a hospital.

        Aha! So what happens when someone is dying and people use prayer instead of taking them to a hospital? Nowadays a majority of people would say “Are you NUTS?” but this hasn’t always been the case. And if religious freedom is used as a defense in the latter case then could Nick, Rosalee and Monroe use the same argument? It seems to me that what a REASONABLE person may believe is irrelevant if Nick, Rosalee and Monroe believe something “unreasonable”.

      • So what happens when someone is dying and people use prayer instead of taking them to a hospital?

        That’s complicated. In some cases the First Amendment has been held to trump, and in other cases it has not. It mostly depends on whether the injured person has consented to this approach and was capable of giving such consent. The really tricky cases involve children, since they may not be capable of consenting to something so dangerous.

        See, e.g., Matter of McCauley, 409 Mass. 134 (1991) (holding that hospital could administer life-saving blood transfusion to an eight year old girl over her parents’ religious objections); In re Duran, 769 A.2d 497 (Sup. Ct. Pa. 2001) (holding that adult had right to refuse life-saving blood transfusion).

        Especially relevant is Lundman v. McKown, 530 N.W.2d 807 (Ct. App. Minn. 1995), in which the court held “A parent may exercise genuinely held religious beliefs. But the resulting conduct, though motivated by religious belief, must yield when—judged by accepted medical practice—it jeopardizes the life of a child. Religious practices must bend to the state’s interest in protecting the welfare of a child whenever the child might die without the intervention of conventional medicine.”

  5. On “special relationship”s that impose a duty to rescue. The only example you’ve given is Parent/Child (or similar), but there would seem to be a continuum. Is there a objective measure for this. Teacher/Student & Camp Councillor/Camper probably imposes duty. What about vaguer relationships like Pastor/Congregant, Bus Driver/Passenger, Museum Tour Guide/Person on tour or even Waiter/Diner (does a Waiter have a duty to try to Heimlich a choking Diner?) .

    • The Restatement lists some examples:

      (1) A common carrier is under a duty to its passengers to take reasonable action
      (a) to protect them against unreasonable risk of physical harm, and
      (b) to give them first aid after it knows or has reason to know that they are ill or injured, and to care for them until they can be cared for by others.
      (2) An innkeeper is under a similar duty to his guests.
      (3) A possessor of land who holds it open to the public is under a similar duty to members of the public who enter in response to his invitation.
      (4) One who is required by law to take or who voluntarily takes the custody of another under circumstances such as to deprive the other of his normal opportunities for protection is under a similar duty to the other.

      The courts have struggled with other cases. As the commentary to the Restatement explains:

      The relations listed are not intended to be exclusive, and are not necessarily the only ones in which a duty of affirmative action for the aid or protection of another may be found. There may be other such relations, as for example that of husband and wife, where the duty is recognized by the criminal law, but there have as yet been no decisions allowing recovery in tort in jurisdictions where negligence actions between husband and wife for personal injuries are permitted. The question is therefore left open by the Caveat, preceding Comment a above. The law appears, however, to be working slowly toward a recognition of the duty to aid or protect in any relation of dependence or of mutual dependence.

      So basically, no, there’s no real hard and fast rule or continuum, just a mish-mash of cases built up over the centuries.

      • FWIW, some of the examples we got in our CPR class is that an on-duty paramedic or nurse has an obligation to their charges. Similarly, if you’re part of the emergency response team at work, you have a legal responsibility. Once you’re off-duty,

        The cases above are, of course, only in the instance where you can render first aid or CPR without endangering yourself. And when you’re off-duty, you’re just another bystander and it’s your choice.

    • I don’t how the courts see it, but I do know that generally EMTs, doctors and the like don’t want you to even try the Heimlich maneuver or CPR unless you have prior training in it*. I’d assume that most courts would go with medical opinion on that one.

      *The odds of accidentally causing more damage are actually good. Yes, a broken rib is far better than choking to death but if all you know is from television you could make the situation much worse.

      • And, as our instructor commented several times, if you learned from the wrong people, you could still be very dangerous even if trained. When Heimlich wrote the maneuver down, he indicated that it was an inward thrust. Somewhere in the course of translation, that got turned into “in and up”, which is much more likely to cause internal damage. We apparently had a case of that this last year, a girl started choking in the cafeteria around noontime, died at 6 PM of “Complications from asphyxiation” which apparently came about from someone incorrectly applying the Heimlich and causing internal damage.

      • Chakat Firepaw

        There are now more than a few doctors and EMTs who say the only person who should use the Heimlich maneuver is the person choking.[1] Overviews of the evidence for the Heimlich maneuver and more recent analyses are saying that it is no better than inverted back slaps and far more likely to cause damage.

        [1] If coughing doesn’t work, it’s the only stronger thing you can do to yourself.

  6. James Pollock

    OK, so in the ordinary common law, providing medical care without explicit, informed consent is a battery. Most states offer a “Good Samaritan” law to shield emergency first-aid providers from tort liability for the battery. But Vermont imposes a DUTY to batter the victim. What result if the victim expressly declines assistance? “Sorry, but the law says…”? or
    TRANSCRIPT
    Prosecutor: So you claim the victim told you to stay away from him.
    D: Yes
    Prosecutor: And what happened after that?
    D: He died.
    Prosecutor: And did anyone else hear the victim speak?
    D: No. At least, not that I know of…
    Prosectuor: Your honor, I’m done with this witness…

    • FWIW, still working from what I went through in class, but in PA, the Good Samaritan laws specifically cover untrained personnel. Trained personnel are covered under the Emergency Medical Services act, although according to our instructor, they’re pretty much the same.

      And you can get refusals of medical efforts. The classic case are blood transfusions and Jehovah’s WItnesses. Another is people with DNR indications on their driver’s license. And, of course, whether or not the victim survives or had any indication of declining care, those associated with them can and often will take you to court in hopes to trip you up and get massive suffering for how your bungling caused their poor narcoleptic grandmother who most definitely had no stopped breathing to suffer from broken ribs. Our instructor actually coached us through several of the likely leading questions because he’s been through these suits before.

    • OK, so in the ordinary common law, providing medical care without explicit, informed consent is a battery.

      No, not necessarily. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 892D:

      Conduct that injures another does not make the actor liable to the other, even though the other has not consented to it if
      (a) an emergency makes it necessary or apparently necessary, in order to prevent harm to the other, to act before there is opportunity to obtain consent from the other or one empowered to consent for him, and
      (b) the actor has no reason to believe that the other, if he had the opportunity to consent, would decline.

      Otherwise emergency rooms would be much less useful.

      But Vermont imposes a DUTY to batter the victim. What result if the victim expressly declines assistance? “Sorry, but the law says…”?

      I don’t think the law imposes a duty to batter anybody. If consent is unavailable and cannot be reasonably assumed, then “reasonable assistance” means not battering the victim. Alternatively, “without interference with important duties owed to others” could be interpreted as including “without interfering with the important duty of not battering people.”

      • James Pollock

        I think you misunderstood. You provided a section of the Restatement that covers (basically) providing aid to an unconscious person, which basically provides a presumption of consent where consent cannot be sought before the proffered aid must be delivered to be effective. That is not the case I posit. Rather, this (allegedly) comical interchange explains what I mean:
        Person #1 comes across Person #2. Person #2 is clearly having trouble standing upright.
        Person #1: Say, there, it looks like you need rescuing.
        Person #2: No I don’t.
        Person #1: No, I insist. Please allow me.
        Person #2: Stop that.
        Person #1: Look, I’m here to rescue you!
        Person #2: I don’t need a rescue. See? I’m perfectly fine!
        Person #1: Your leg just fell off.
        Person #2: No it didn’t.
        Person #1: Yes it did. See? (holds up leg)
        Person #2: That’s not my leg.
        Person #1: Then whose is it?
        Person #2: I don’t know. Maybe you had it with you when you got here.
        Person #1: You think I had your leg when I got here?
        Person #2: I told you that’s not my leg.
        Person #1: Look… this leg has the exact same shoe on it as the leg you’re standing on.
        Person #2: So? Lots of people buy this kind of shoe.
        Person #1: Look, I’m just here to offer you some aid.
        Person #2 Don’t want any.
        Person #1: I think you should see a doctor. Right away.
        Person #2: What are you, one of President Obama’s busybodies? Go away!
        Person #1: How about if we just call 911?
        Person #2 I tell you I don’t need any help. Please leave me alone.
        At this point, Person #2 tips over. While Person #2 is trying to get back up, Person #1 reaches down, grabs Person #2, stands him back up, and props him up with the loose leg, then goes on about his business.

        So… in this scenario, a battery has occurred. Most likely, a Good Samaritan statute makes it non-actionable. If the state actually imposes a duty to aid (as opposed to a duty to OFFER aid), then the state compels battery. The fact that it’s not an actionable tort doesn’t make it not a battery.

      • I think “reasonable assistance” implies only assisting someone if assistance is consented to or consent can be assumed. It doesn’t seem very reasonable to assist someone who is demanding that you not do so. And as I said before, “without interference with important duties owed to others” could be interpreted as including “without interfering with the important duty of not battering people.”

      • James Pollock

        See, to me, “without interference with important duties owed to others” would be the type of situation like “I’m transporting this human organ to the hospital for transplant, where the surgical team is waiting… and what’s this, someone on the side of the road needs a band-aid? Should I stop and provide aid? The legislature says…” or even “I’ve got to get my kids out of daycare, and as it is I’m going to get there right at closing time…” and possibly even “boss says if I’m late just one more time, I’m fired.” I see “owed to others” and it makes me think “others” means “people other than that guy who looks like he could use some help”. I get that “others” could be interpreted as “other than myself”, but I think that’s a contorted reading. I really think that phrasing is meant to excuse people who really do have a good reason to be somewhere else.

      • James Pollock

        Let me give one more example: There’s someone who needs aid. I don’t have any specific training, experience, or knowledge, I just happen to be the only person on the scene. BUT, in order to go to that person’s aid, I would have to leave my three kids under 5 unattended. I think that’s the application of “without interference with important duties owed to others”. (That reading is also why I said Superman’s going to be immune to this law… he’s ALWAYS attending to duties owed to others, and presumably, the law allows him to decide which situation require his attention most urgently. It would be different if Supes blew off a rescue because he was having a picnic lunch on a hillside with Lois, Lana, and Wonder Woman, playing high-stakes “Truth or Dare”… But Supers isn’t going to be in or over Vermont unless he’s got someplace to be. Now if whatever state it is that Metropolis is located in tried to pass a similar statute, I’m thinking Superman is going to clarify his position as to whether he intends to comply and how, and attempts to fine him are going to result in a buildup of summons at the ol’ fortress of solitude, but no change in his actual behavior. And I feel sorry for the LEOs that try to enforce the arrest warrant.

      • I see “owed to others” and it makes me think “others” means “people other than that guy who looks like he could use some help”. I get that “others” could be interpreted as “other than myself”, but I think that’s a contorted reading.

        I agree that it’s a bit contorted, but it’s a possible way to avoid the absurd result of forcing people to “help” someone who manifestly doesn’t want it. Putting that under “reasonable assistance” is probably the better argument.

        That reading is also why I said Superman’s going to be immune to this law… he’s ALWAYS attending to duties owed to others, and presumably, the law allows him to decide which situation require his attention most urgently.

        I strongly suspect that “important duties owed to others” means legal duties, not merely moral obligations. Superman doesn’t have a legal duty to rescue other people (outside Vermont), which is why I don’t think he can use the existence of other emergencies as a general defense. And I’m not sure he can claim “well, I was on my way to this other emergency, so I had undertaken a rescue and thus owed them a duty of due care in carrying out the rescue.” Merely being on the way to the scene doesn’t implicate the rationales behind that rule (i.e. unless he has announced his intention to rescue the victim then the victim can’t rely on Superman and other rescuers will not be dissuaded from helping the victim).

        Now, he could use the existence of those emergencies to invoke necessity. For example, saving the world by stopping an impending asteroid strike even if it means not saving a person hurt in a car accident is probably the lesser of two evils.

      • James Pollock

        “Superman doesn’t have a legal duty to rescue other people (outside Vermont), ”
        He does when he’s in or over Vermont, and when he isn’t, he needn’t fear Vermont’s law (unless it has a longarm elemement)

  7. Pingback: Avengers Academy and the Duty to Rescue | SFTC

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