It is human nature to feel sympathy for others or help them if they are in need. For some it is their job to do so; for others it is a personal choice made with little hesitancy. However, your help can come at great personal cost and the ensuing battle over who should be held responsible can be a lengthy and aggravating one. Here we will take a look at an actual case where this was addressed.
In Maguire v. Padt, a motion was made for a summary judgement (to ascertain whether or not there was a genuine issue for trial).
Suzanne Padt (the defendant) was travelling in a vehicle with her daughter during the winter season. There was a sudden gust of wind and blowing snow which caused her to lose visibility of the road. She unfortunately drove off the road and into a ditch, causing her vehicle to overturn.
Shortly thereafter, a police officer showed up on the scene to offer assistance. Not long after, four other vehicles stopped when they reached the scene of the accident to offer assistance. Two of the rescuers helped remove Padt and her daughter from the vehicle, after which they were placed in the police car. Fortunately, neither of them was hurt.
What happened next was unexpected and tragic.
The police officer was standing in the immediate vicinity of the overturned vehicle, while three of the rescuers were standing behind the police cruiser. A driver approaching the scene lost control of his vehicle and ploughed into the parked police cruiser. Two of the rescuers who were standing behind the cruiser died and one was catastrophically injured (Jennifer Maguire).
The first accident was caused by the defendant but who should be held liable for the tragic accident thereafter?
As mentioned in previous articles, a summary judgment seeks to assess the issues and evidence of a potential claim in order to either dismiss or validate the need for a trial. Was the defendant liable based on the evidence?
We take a look at how the evidence was weighed and the eventual outcome.
When someone decides freely to help someone in danger, legally it is seen that the person accepts the probability of personal risk. Over the years, the laws have been reviewed and changed and rescuers are now able to hold the victims of an accident liable if they are injured during the rescuing process. The law took into consideration the innate reaction in individuals to help someone in distress. Liability extends not just to the victim (the person in immediate need) but to the rescuers as well. Although an accident may be unexpected, a person is not bound by law to offer assistance, especially at the risk of endangering themselves. The choice to assist someone is a foreseeable result in the event of an accident.
In this instance Mr. and Mrs. Padt were seeking a summary judgement because while it is apparent that she was responsible for her accident, what is unclear is whether or not a duty of care was still owed to her rescuers at the time of the second accident.
Novus actus interveniens is the Latin translation for “new intervening act”. It refers to the break in the causal sequence of a wrongful event that relinquishes responsibility from the accused.
So what stage was the incident at when the second car accident occurred?
The Padts argue that the rescue process was over at the time of the second car accident and therefore they cannot be held liable. Are they correct?
Key Points of the Case – Second Accident Analysis
- Padt and her daughter were sitting the police car. The officer left them and went back to their overturned vehicle. His purpose for going back was debated between the two parties in the suit. The Padts claim that his actions were a clear indication that the investigative procedures had begun (meaning that the rescue in itself was over). The plaintiff (Jennifer Maguire) claims that this proves that they were still in the process of the rescue (as the police officer was ensuring that no one else was in the vehicle).
- Before the second accident, the officer had taken statements and personal information from everyone present. One of the rescuers was in his car preparing to leave and the other three witnesses were standing behind the police car when the second accident occurred. These actions (according the defendants) prove that the rescue attempt was over.
In preceding cases and rulings, it is seen that the duty of care does not end when the person in danger is perceived to be safe. The ruling Judge assessed cases that addressed the same issue of ascertaining when duty of care and liability ends and applied them to this case. He saw that this was not a case that was easily resolved. He reverted to the simple basic tort rule of law; foreseeability.
Was the second accident a foreseeable possibility and outcome as the result of the first?
The Judge believed so. The probability that another person could experience the same poor visibility in the short space of time after the first accident was a reasonable assumption. He also ruled that the end of peril does not release a victim in an accident from liability. There is no definitive moment during a rescue attempt that a rescuer has a clear notion of when their role has ended; nor would they be thinking of this aspect during such a highly emotionally charged event.
Hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer is critical to having a successful outcome to your case. Allow the personal injury lawyers at Rastin & Associates to help get you through the legal process with the compassion and strength that is needed at such a difficult time.