Due to advancing communications technology and the advent of smartphones, we are at a pivotal point in our interconnectedness as a society. The world is literally at our fingertips. We connect to the far reaches of the globe in real time with a click, swipe, tap, or voice command. With such universal connectivity, and phones in our pockets, why are we not required to do the bare minimum of calling 9-1-1 when someone is in danger? Traditionally, our common law system never imposes a duty to rescue, except when a special relationship exists, and has only required a duty to report in limited circumstances.
This article examines the viability of current duty to rescue and duty to report laws in the United States as well as whether reform is necessary given the capacity and availability of today’s technology. First, the article explores the history and rationale behind the lack of duty to rescue laws and their exceptions. The article next considers the nature of the duty to report, given the absence of a common law duty to rescue, suggesting that neither duty to rescue nor duty to report laws are adequate in their present forms. By examining pending cases and past precedent, this article then analyzes why changing the current state of the law is essential. Utilizing model statutes, this article proposes imposing liability upon actors who fail to report an event or act causing injury to a person or to rescue another when the actor’s conduct created the circumstances causing the injury or harm. ‘[T]he world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it’ (Albert Einstein).
Carr, Nanci, Am I My Brother’s Keeper? How Technology Necessitates Reform of the Lack of Duty to Rescue or Duty to Report Laws in the United States (September 9, 2019). Boston University Public Interest Law Journal, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2019.