In California, the law provides a certain level of protection (in the form of a cause of action) for an individual who is injured while attempting to save, rescue or assist another individual who was injured in a car accident, trucking crash, or motorcycle collision due to the negligence of another. Of course, the rescue doctrine is not limited to vehicle accidents, but extends into any situation where someone is injured due to someone else’s negligence. For example, Jim negligently causes a motorcycle accident when his big rig struck Scott’s motorcycle, causing Scott to be hurled into a nearby river. Susan, a passerby, observes the crash and Scott’s pending peril, so she leaps into the river and attempts to rescue Scott from drowning. While she is dragging Scott to safety, his motorcycle explodes and Susan breaks her ankle from being knocked down by the explosion. Susan then requires surgery and physical therapy rehabilitation. Under the rescue doctrine, Susan is able to pursue a claim against Jim because she was injured rescuing someone who was placed in danger because of Jim’s negligence. Historically, if Susan was negligent in her rescue of Scott and that negligence, even minimal negligence, contributed to her injury, she would be unable to recover anything from the negligent Jim because contributory negligence was a complete bar to her recovery. Now, because California follows the more fair comparative fault rules, Susan would still be able to recover from Jim for her injuries (see Comparative Negligence vs. Contributory Negligence – What’s the Difference?) if she proves her claim by demonstrating all of the following: 1. That there was, or a reasonable person would have perceived that there was, an emergency situation in which someone was in actual or apparent danger of immediate injury; 2. That [the emergency/a danger to [name of plaintiff]] was created by [name of defendant]’s negligence; and 3. That [name of plaintiff] was harmed while attempting to rescue the person in danger. Jim’s only response to her claim would be to show that for Susan “the [rescue] doctrine does not apply…[because she] acted rashly or recklessly in attempting the rescue.” (see California Jury Instructions 453) It is the defendant who has the burden of proving that the injured rescuer acted with rash or reckless conduct in order to prevent her recovery against him. Contact our personal injury lawyer if you have been involved in a personal injury accident due to the negligence of someone else.
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