Laypeople are often deterred from undertaking altruistic acts, assuming that they face a risk of negligence liability should they injure others while helping. We argue that the laypeople’s interpretation of the law does not correspond with the courts’ interpretation of negligence liability. Reviewing the case law, we demonstrate that the courts treat such cases with leniency in the spirit of the Compensation Act 2006, s 1 and the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Act (SARAH) 2015, s 2. Thus, the negligence liability rules do not offer a sufficient explanation for the widely-held opinion that acts of altruism may give rise to liability. We hypothesise that the public’s perception of legal rules is determined by a number of well-known biases and is not founded in the law itself. In the light of those biases, we contend that the function of the Compensation Act 2006, s 1 and SARAH 2015 does not lie in the substance but in their value as potential signals to reassure laypeople.
Sebastian Peyer and Rob Heywood, Walking on thin ice: the perception of tortious liability rules and the effect on altruistic behaviour, Legal Studies, https://doi.org/10.1017/lst.2018.39. Published online: 23 April 2019.