Injured Rescuer Sues Teen Who Needed Rescuing

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on January 22, 2015 1:40 PM

As they say, no good deed goes unpunished. Volunteer rescuer Nick Papageorge's IV (not a typo; that's apparently his real name, though the Los Angeles Times spells it without the "s" or the apostrophe) was injured in April 2013 when he went searching for two missing hikers in Cleveland National Forest (which is actually about an hour east of San Diego, for some reason).

Papageorge's fractured his spine after falling off a 110-foot cliff while looking for 18-year-old Kyndall Jack and 19-year-old Nicholas Cendoya. The pair had disappeared during their hike -- which, according to the lawsuit, wasn't so much a "hike" as a "trip into the woods to smoke meth."

So how is it that the missing hikers can be on the hook when someone else gets injured rescuing them?

The Rescue Doctrine

The "rescue doctrine" is a part of tort law which says that if a person places himself in a situation where he needs to be rescued, and that situation is potentially dangerous, then that person is liable for any harm that befalls any rescuers. This is because, as Judge Benjamin Cardozo famously wrote in a 1921 opinion, "Danger invites rescue."

Negligence is all about whether an injury in foreseeable, and as Judge Cardozo pointed out, not only is it foreseeable that someone would need to be rescued from a dangerous situation, but it's also foreseeable that the rescuer might get injured as a result:

"The cry of distress is the summons to relief. The law does not ignore these reactions of the mind in tracing conduct to its consequences. It recognizes them as normal. It places their effects within the range of the natural and probable. The wrong that imperils life is a wrong to the imperiled victim; it is a wrong also to his rescuer."

That's Your Classic Peril Right There

And Papageorge's certainly was imperiled. After falling 110 feet and fracturing his spine, he needed two titanium rods and 11 metal screws in his back, OC Weekly reports.

In his lawsuit, he claimed over $500,000 in medical bills. Cendoya and Jack's actions were a little more than just negligent, according to the suit: They had apparently set out into the forest, with no water or warm clothes, in order to take some drugs. Police later found methamphetamine in Cendoya's car, which was still in the park's parking lot. Cendoya pleaded guilty to possession of 500 milligrams of methamphetamine, according to Los Angeles' KABC-TV.

Papageorge's settled his suit with Jack for $100,000, reported the Los Angeles Times. The money will come from Jack's mother's homeowner's insurance (which just goes to show why you should have homeowners insurance!). Cendoya had apparently already settled for an undisclosed sum.

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