Category: Rescuer Law

Court Of Appeal Discusses Doctrine Of Rescuer Law

The law recognizes that, under the right circumstances, when a person is injured in the process of trying to rescue or assist someone injured through the negligence of another party, then the person can bring an action for damages against the party that originally created the danger.


In Ray v. Bates, the Plaintiff was a driving bus on wintery roads when another vehicle collided with it. There were no injuries to anyone. As the Plaintiff and the driver of the other vehicle were exchanging information, another car also collided with the bus, against resulting in no injuries. By that time, emergency responders were already on the scene. The Plaintiff made the decision to walk over to see if the ambulance attendant would call a road maintenance company to ensure that the roads were sanded and salted. On his way over, the Plaintiff slipped on ice, and injured himself. He brought an action for damages against the Defendants, however his claim was dismissed at trial, with the trial justice ruling that the Defendants’ negligence was not the proximate cause of the Plaintiff’s injuries. The Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the trial justice had erred in law by applying a standard of necessity, rather than a standard of reasonableness, to the Plaintiff’s actions, however the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. The Court commented on the doctrine of rescuer law.


[12]        Often, in a negligence case, the chain of causation will be broken where an independent voluntary human action intervenes between the negligent act and the injury. The principle, often expressed in Latin as “novus actus interveniens” can be difficult to apply, and admits of certain exceptions.


[13]        In this case, the plaintiff’s decision to leave his vehicle and walk down a slippery road would seem to break the chain of causation between the defendants’ negligence and the injury unless the case falls within an exception that has been carved out in “rescuer” cases.


[22]        In rescue cases, the law does not find the chain of causation to be broken by the rescuer’s actions because they are considered to be foreseeable consequences of the peril created by the negligence. In order for a plaintiff to bring him or herself within the principles applicable to rescue cases, therefore, the plaintiff must demonstrate that his or her actions were motivated by a reasonable perception of a peril that was caused by the defendant’s negligence.


[23]        In my opinion, the plaintiff fails to meet this requirement in two respects. First, the plaintiff could not reasonably have perceived a peril in the circumstances of this case. Everything was under control, and there was no reason to believe that road maintenance authorities had not been advised of the situation. This is what the judge meant when he said “Whatever else may be said of the plaintiff’s decisions, it cannot be said that he needed to walk to the ambulance to summon road maintenance personnel when all of the emergency personnel described were already in attendance.” He was not applying a standard of necessity in rescue cases, but rather was making a finding that there was no purpose to be served by the plaintiff walking on the road.


[24]        The plaintiff’s claim to be a “rescuer” in this case must also fail because any peril that the plaintiff was attempting to alleviate was one that was unconnected with the accident. This was not a case (like Bridge) where the plaintiff was attempting to assist a victim of the accident, nor was it a case (like Goodman) where he was attempting to reduce the danger posed to other drivers by the detritus left by the accident. The plaintiff was attempting to contact road maintenance officials to deal with the slipperiness of the road. That problem was purely a product of weather conditions, and not of the accident.


[25]        The summary trial judge made no error in finding that the defendant’s negligence was not the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries, nor did he err in finding that this was not a rescue case. I would dismiss the appeal.