Legal Duty to Rescue

In the common law of most English-speaking countries there is no general duty to come to the rescue of another, unless you created the hazardous situation or a special relationship exists between the parties, like a parent-child relationship. In fact it seems that only 28 out of 195 countries worldwide have written the duty of rescue into their legal system.

Generally, a person cannot be held liable for doing nothing while another person is in peril.

However, a duty to rescue does arise under international shipping law. A ship that is in a position to provide assistance to persons in distress at sea must do so.

The 28 countries that do incorporate this into their civil law systems are mainly in Continental Europe, Latin America and much of Africa. The duty is usually limited to doing what is “reasonable”. In particular, a helper should not endanger their own life or that of others but should, at the very least, alert the emergency services. These countries include:

  • Albania
  • Andorra
  • Argentina
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Brazil
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Russia
  • Serbia
  • Spain
  • Switzerland
  • Tunisia

One would have thought with the volumes of laws that we have in each country that this would have been better covered.