For most people on a day to day basis, there is no duty of care owed to other people. Some people do have a duty, such as doctors who have a duty to their patients, or landlords who have a duty to their tenants. In a recent case, the Maine Supreme Court weighed if people owe a duty to others if action could prevent further harm.* So while you may be considered a hero if you save someones life who is in danger, you do not have a legal obligation (unless you put that person in the danger).
Steven Cilley, 54, of Princeton, sued Jennifer Lane, of Princeton, over the death of Cilley’s son. Joshua Cilley died on Jan. 31, 2005, at age 27 in the Calais Regional Hospital emergency room of a gunshot wound to the abdomen from a .22-caliber bullet. He was shot while in Lane’s trailer, according to court documents.
Lane, described as the younger man’s on-again, off-again lover, allegedly sat with him for at least 15 minutes after he was shot before attempting to seek medical assistance. Steven Cilley said earlier this year that the doctor who treated his injured son told him Joshua Cilley could have been saved if he had arrived at the hospital five minutes earlier.
“Because Cilley was a trespasser at the time of the incident, Lane’s only duty to him was to refrain from wanton, willful, or reckless behavior,” Justice Ellen Gorman wrote for the court. “Lane’s failure to contact emergency assistance for Cilley immediately after she heard the pop [of the gunshot] does not rise to the level of wanton, willful, or reckless behavior because Lane did not create the danger to Cilley, nor commit any act that led to his initial injury.”
via Bangor Daily News.
* I have not read the full case so I don’t know how the issue was exactly presented to the court.
Updated: The case indicates: The Estate contends that Lane owed Cilley a duty of care because he was a social guest in her home, and in the alternative has asked us to recognize a new common law duty: the affirmative duty to seek emergency assistance through reasonable means.