Truth, Justice, and the American Rule

I have a piece over at Wired.com on Man of Steel and the duty to rescue.  There are some moderate spoilers in the article.  All in all it was a pretty good movie, though not without its flaws (<- serious spoiler alert!).  I recommend checking it out.  We’ll have more on Man of Steel here at Law and the Multiverse later this week.

10 responses to “Truth, Justice, and the American Rule

  1. A question about the ability of the government to restrict an individual’s ability to speak.

    In the Suicide Squad series (set in the late 1980s through early 1990s), said squad is a covert superhuman organization created by the U.S. government that seems to be part of the intelligence community. At one point in its run a Senator Cray attempted to blackmail the organization into helping him secure reelection, threatening to make the squad’s existence public if they didn’t. Ultimately he was assassinated by Deathstroke and its existence was revealed anyway, but I’m forced to wonder if a gag order wouldn’t have been a possible solution.

    • Deadshot, not Deathstroke.

      Not sure about a covert ops force being able to legally obtain an injunction against a US senator…?

      • why not? the Suicide Squad is part of the Government, so why can’t the Federal Government obtain an injnction?

  2. So does this mean that if Lex Luthor happens upon a burning house with a bunch of people trapped inside, and decides to use the fire to light his cigar, pull up a chair and watch them die for kicks, there is technically no legal repercussions?

    • Is there a public smoking ban?
      Is he trespassing in order to get close enough to the fire to light his cigar?
      Is his chair an impedament to first repsonders?
      Is he in Vermont?

    • It’s funny you should use a cigar in your hypothetical. As the commentary to the Restatement (Second) of Torts put it:

      The result of the rule has been a series of older decisions to the effect that one human being, seeing a fellow man in dire peril, is under no legal obligation to aid him, but may sit on the dock, smoke his cigar, and watch the other drown. Such decisions have been condemned by legal writers as revolting to any moral sense, but thus far they remain the law.

      The commentary goes on to say that “It appears inevitable that, sooner or later such extreme cases of morally outrageous and indefensible conduct will arise that there will be further inroads upon the older rule.” Yet 47 years later when the Restatement (Third) was written, the default rule remains that “an actor whose conduct has not created a risk of physical or emotional harm to another has no duty of care to the other” unless an exception applies.

      So, assuming that Luthor had no role in causing the burning house or trapping the people and assuming he has violated no other laws in the process (e.g. trespassing, impeding emergency services, a statute requiring him to call emergency services), then no, in most states “merely” being a sociopath and refusing to help would not make him liable to the people trapped inside the building.

  3. “the Restatement (Third)… remains that “an actor whose conduct has not created a risk of physical or emotional harm to another has no duty of care to the other”” so as to create a hypothetical not based in our world, Peter Parker breaks up with Mary Jane and this causes her emotional harm to the point of her threatening to kill herself, does Peter have an obligation to intervene and have her committed since he caused the emotional harm?

    • What the Restatement means by emotional harm in that case is tortious emotional harm, such as intentional infliction of emotional distress. That is generally a pretty high bar; one element is usually that the conduct be considered outrageous. Unless Peter broke up with Mary Jane in a particularly outrageous or shocking way, I don’t know what it would create a duty of care.

      Even so, I’m not sure that duty of care would go so far as to require Peter to have Mary Jane committed, since Peter isn’t really qualified to judge whether she should be committed, nor does he necessarily know how best to handle someone who is threatening self-harm. The duty of care is typically a duty of reasonable care. I suspect that reasonable care under the circumstances would probably be to call a suicide prevention hotline or the like.

  4. Hi. There’s a scene where Zod threatens Superman’s mother so Superman responds by punching Zod all the way from an isolated farmhouse, through some fields, until they end up in a gas station in Smallville. Under the law, did Superman have a duty to keep the fight from getting into Smallville or does his duty to his mother to keep her safe trump such concerns? Thanks.

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