Historically, the common law has required no action at all from those who witness a person in distress unless the bystander created the dangerous condition. The bystander has been free to walk away, laughing if he wished. This is called the “bystander rule.” Some exceptions crept into the law, such as the duty of an employer to assist his worker. The legislatures of some states, such as Vermont and Minnesota, have passed statutes that reversed the common law rule. These so-called Good Samaritan laws place a duty on bystanders to come to the aid of someone in distress if it is reasonable to do so. They also incorporate a minor criminal penalty for failure to do so and immunity from civil liability for negligence. Our concern is with the legal obligation and potential liability of a private citizen coming to the aid of someone in peril. Our lesson also illustrates how a common law principle, honored by many generations of judges, can be overturned by a statute.
Watch this video clip from a Seinfeld episode. In this episode, Jerry, Elaine, Kramer, and George laugh as they watch someone being mugged and robbed and do nothing to help the victim. They are arrested and charged with violating the town’s Good Samaritan law for their failure to come to the victim’s assistance. Read the Minnesota Good Samaritan statute.
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READ THIS SITUATION
You are employed as a warehouse package handler for RiverNile, Incorporated, in Medena, Minnesota. You are having lunch in the breakroom with several co-workers, one of whom is a young woman about four months pregnant, sitting across the table from you. She has taken a bite of a roast beef and cheddar cheese sandwich which she purchased from the company cafeteria. She begins coughing and clutches her chest. When you were previously employed as a waiter at an Outfront Steakhouse, you were trained in CPR and the Heimlich maneuver but never had occasion to use them. You leap up and wrap your arms around her waist. You tip her forward slightly, make a fist with one hand, and position it slightly above her navel. You then grasp the fist with the other hand and press hard into her abdomen with a quick, upward thrust. As you continue the thrusts, she yells at you to stop. When you let her go, she collapses onto the floor clutching her chest, in obvious pain. “You idiot,” she screams, “I was having an asthma attack.” Someone has called 911. The EMT’s discover you have broken two of her ribs and she may be miscarrying. They rush her to the hospital. She is treated for broken ribs and, although she doesn’t lose the baby, her OB/GYN orders bed rest and light physical activity for the remainder of her pregnancy. She does not return to work and files a lawsuit against you and RiverNiIE
After reading the situation , explain your potential liability for her injuries and the liability of RiverNile, your employer. Consider the following issues. What might be the basis of her claims? What protection, if any, would the Minnesota Good Samaritan Law afford you and/or your employer? What defenses might you have? What might have been your liability if there were no Good Samaritan Law? Would you have gone to her aid if there were no Good Samaritan Law? Why or why not? Your paper should be double-spaced, be in Times New Roman 12-point font, and include APA-formatted citations and references.
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