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If You See Someone in Trouble, is it a Crime Not to Help?

Here is the scenario: Bob is fishing at Lake X. Sally is swimming and seems to be struggling and then disappears beneath the water. Does Bob, who is an excellent swimmer, have a duty to help save Sally?

In a word, NO. Legally, he has no duty or obligation to help Sally or anyone else he sees in trouble. It may be shocking to think there is no duty to help but that is the law. Bob can film the drowning and air it on Facebook and he is still protected.  It is simply not a crime NOT to help.

Morally you could argue that Bob has a duty to help but that is between Bob and his conscience. Legally, he has no requirement to help. BUT, if Bob does decide to render aid, most states, including California, have Good Samaritan laws to protect Bob. California Health and Safety Code Section 1799.102 says, “No person who in good faith, and not for compensation, renders emergency medical or nonmedical care at the scene of an emergency shall be liable for any civil damages resulting from any act or omission.”   This law was designed to protect the do-gooder from any unintended consequences of his actions. Let’s say Bob does swim over to Sally with the intention of bringing her to shore and prevent a drowning. Given the limitations of the situation and what Bob sees, that is reasonable under the circumstances. If Sally suffers additional problems because of Bob’s actions, (for example, he dislocates her shoulder in trying to lift her out of the water), he is protected from any future lawsuit based on his actions. As long as Bob acted reasonably in trying to save the victim’s life he is protected by the Good Samaritan laws. Without those laws everyone would be afraid to render aid, lest their actions be deemed harmful rather than helpful.


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