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In Which States do I Have a Duty to Help?

Does your state have a duty to report or help law?

On your walk to Starbucks, you hear a scream! Around the corner you find a lady knocked out, bleeding from a cut wound to her arm, and a guy is running away with her purse. Do you help her? Do you run after the guy? Do you call the police? Can you just continue on your way and ignore the lady?

No Duty to Rescue

At common law and in most states, people, generally, have no duty to help or rescue another person. You would only have a duty to help if you created the peril, you started trying to rescue or help, or you have a special relationship, such as parent-child, with the person in need.

State Exceptions

However, some states have laws that do impose a duty to assist people in need. These laws do vary from state to state:

  1. Wisconsin -- In Wisconsin, if you know that a crime is being committed, and that a victim has suffered or may suffer bodily harm, you have a duty to call police or provide assistance
  2. Minnesota -- If you are at the scene of an emergency and you know that someone has suffered grave physical harm, or could be hurt, you have a duty to give "reasonable assistance." Reasonable assistance can mean calling or attempting to call police or medical personnel.
  3. Rhode Island -- If you know that person is a victim of sexual assault, murder, manslaughter, or armed robbery and you were at the scene of the crime, then you need to report the crime to law enforcement. Failure to do so is punishable by up to six months in jail or a fine of $500 to $1,000.
  4. California -- When you reasonably know or believe that a child under 14 years of age has been a victim of murder, rape, or lewd and lascivious acts, you must notify law enforcement. Failure to do so is excused if you feared for your own safety, or you are related to either the victim or the offender.
  5. Florida -- In Florida, if you witness a sexual battery, you need to immediately report the offense to law enforcement. Violation of this law is a first degree misdemeanor.

Other states that have similar statutes include Ohio, Massachusetts, Vermont, Hawaii, and Washington.

Most people think the willingness to help others in an emergency is a moral choice. It is, but it also has legal consequences, so it is helpful to understand the law in your area so you can make the best choice possible if you are ever in this situation.

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