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Duty to rescue under MA law?

I watched that video last week of the people who lifted the burning car off of the motorcyclist who had slid under the car after an accident. Wild stuff. It got me thinking about the people who went in there, with the car on fire, and put themselves at risk by lifting the car. If someone was in that situation, or some other situation where they can act and save someone or not and let the person get injured or killed, what happens if they just stand there and do nothing? Is inaction a type of negligence that the injured person can sue over and collect damages? Is there some duty to rescue someone in Massachusetts? Thanks.

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Generally speaking, for liability to attach to a person, through inaction or action, there must be a duty on the part of the person to use reasonable care toward the plaintiff, the injured party.  In some cases, inaction can be a basis for a negligence claim under MA law, if such a duty exists.  The classic example is a doctor who negligently fails for treat a condition.  Her inaction can be negligence.

However, the law does not place a duty to rescue or assist on ordinary citizens.  If I were standing across the street from that burning car and decided that it was a bit too dangerous for me to assist the injured biker, that inaction would not create any possible liability on my part.  However, once a person voluntarily undertakes the rescue of another person, he then has a duty to use reasonable care in providing that assistance.  So, for example, if I were at the scene of an accident and I yelled out so all bystanders could hear, "Don't worry, I'll call 911,"  then I have created a duty for myself toward the injured party.  If I changed my mind about calling and simply walked off without telling anyone, I could be found negligent and be liable for any negative consequences of my act suffered by the injured party. 

However, see Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 268, Section 40, which creates a duty on the part of a witness to an aggravated rape, rape, murder, manslaughter or armed robbery to report the crime ASAP, to the extent that he can do it without putting himself in danger. 



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