The human instinct to help those in need, even at the risk of one’s own safety, is commendable. When a person is injured during such a situation, the rescue doctrine can come into play. In Indiana, the rescue doctrine allows an individual who is injured attempting to rescue someone from a dangerous situation to hold the negligent actor liable. In order to bring a successful claim, the rescuer must prove: (1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty to protect him from injury; (2) the defendant failed to perform that duty; and (3) the plaintiff’s harm resulted from the defendant’s failure to protect him from injury. If an individual is considered a rescuer, then he is owed a duty of care by those that contributed to the dangerous situation.
In a recent case, another state supreme court was recently tasked with deciding whether a man qualified as a rescuer when he was injured after encouraging others to stop fighting. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff was a rescuer despite exerting no bodily activity to intervene in the situation. However, in Indiana, an individual must actually attempt to rescue and exert physical effort to be qualified as a rescuer.
According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was injured after attempting to rescue a taxi cab driver from an intoxicated passenger. Hearing cries for help, the plaintiff approached the cab and told the passenger to stop punching the driver. The plaintiff was then hit over the head and run over by the passenger. He filed a lawsuit against the taxi cab company because they had knowledge of previous passenger attacks on drivers but had failed to install partitions or security cameras. Relying on the rescue doctrine, he claimed he was injured while rescuing the driver, who was owed a duty by the cab company, meaning it also owed a duty to him. Among other issues, the court was tasked with deciding whether the plaintiff was considered a rescuer even though he did not take bodily action to save the driver from danger. The court ruled that, rather than requiring physical intervention, one must assess whether a plaintiff can qualify as a rescuer based on three important factors: (1) the plaintiff’s reason for acting, (2) the plaintiff’s reasonable belief that someone was in imminent peril, and (3) the utility of the plaintiff’s conduct. The plaintiff satisfied the test and qualified as a rescuer.