I was badly cut attempting to remove someone from their car through a broken window. I had seen an accident between two cars and stopped to see if I could call an ambulance. The car that was struck by another car crossing over a double yellow line was stuck in a ditch. When I got to the car in the ditch, the driver seemed to be panicking, trying to get out through the broken driver’s window. When I tried to help the driver through the window, I was badly cut and needed to be hospitalized myself. Do I have a case against anyone?
The short answer is yes. In prior blogs, the “common law” has been explained to be a legal principal that is announced in a legal decision, and over the course of decades, becomes law just like any statute that is passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor. The particular common law in this case is called the Emergency Situation Doctrine.
Judge Cardozo used the phrase “danger invites rescue” in an important Court of Appeals decision explaining the Emergency Situation Doctrine over a hundred years ago. The doctrine states that when a person sees another person in danger, the person who attempts to help the person in danger has a claim against the negligent parties that created the dangerous situation. (The person attempting the rescue though cannot act in a reckless manner.)
In this case, when you saw the two vehicle collision, you were compelled to see what you could do to help the people involved. You stated that your main goal was to see if people were injured, and if so, to summon an ambulance. When you came upon the person panicking, you attempted to assist that person from their vehicle. You were injured assisting that person exiting the vehicle.
Your claim is against the party or parties that created the situation. You may have a claim against both drivers. You have a claim against the driver that crossed over the yellow line because that driver was not following the Vehicle and Traffic Law in their vehicle operation and that conduct would be negligent. However, the driver you rescued could be negligent if that driver did not take any action to avoid an accident that might have been avoided. Statements from both drivers might be evaluated by a jury to determine if there was fault on both drivers.