31-year-old Jamel Dunn recently drowned in a retention pond located in Brevard County, Florida. City of Cocoa police later determined that five teenagers had a video of the incident which was posted online. The report says the teens mocked the man and it raised a question whether they had a legal duty to assist or provide aid. Anthony Kennedy of the Supreme Court had explained in a 2012 case that there is no overall duty to provide aid to a person in distress. Kennedy explained that although there may be criticisms on a moral basis, the law does not require that you must render assistance. Attorney David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor, also agreed that no duty to rescue exists.
An Ethical, Not Legal Question
Attorney Jeffrey Lapin stated that although it may appear ethically wrong, the actions of the teens were not illegal. Cocoa's Mayor Parrish was very disappointed with the inaction of the group. There are a few situations under U.S. law where aid must be rendered, such as those out at sea. Federal law says that those aboard watercrafts in U.S. waters are required to help those in danger of being lost. In 1989, this requirement became an international obligation based on treaty. All U.S. states currently have some type of “Good Samaritan” laws in place to shield those attempting to rescue others from potential civil liability associated with their actions.
The Maryland Laws That Offer Immunity to Those Providing Aid
The National Network for Public Health explains the three purposes of Good Samaritan Laws as follows:
- Extend immunity from crimes to those offering emergency assistance
- Encourage the public to aid and assist in health emergencies
- To prevent drug overdose deaths
Generally, those whose job is to provide emergency assistance have been immune from civil liability in executing their duties. The state has also expanded this to the general public as well. The Maryland Good Samaritan Act was put in place in 2015 and offers limited immunity from being arrested or prosecuted for some crimes when individuals assist someone experiencing a drug overdose. This protection does extend to those on probation or parole. In response to the opioid epidemic that has developed across the U.S. that has led to a wave of drug overdose deaths, many states have implemented new laws and regulations.
Maryland recently added a statute that authorizes certified individuals to administer Naloxone, a drug that can prevent a fatal drug overdose. The Maryland Department of Health & Mental Hygiene (DHMH) has developed training that leads to certification for people to aid those believed to be experiencing an overdose. This is designed to provide a remedy when no medical personnel is available. In addition, the state is in the process of offering immunity for those providing treatment to animals. The Baltimore Sun reported that Baltimore County received 58 animal oxygen masks that were donated from the Invisible Fence Company in Baltimore.