Imagine you are driving on a snowy winter night. Suddenly your car skids on a patch of ice and crashes into a pole, sending you hurtling through the windshield onto the sidewalk. Badly injured and unable to move or speak, you wake up and see a man standing over you. Not doing anything — just standing there looking down at you, shaking his head. You recognize him from your neighborhood. Then he just walks away, leaving you there.
Hours later, another passerby finds you and calls an ambulance. At the hospital, the doctor who treats you gives you bad news: Because of the long delay in getting you treatment, you will never fully recover from your injuries.
Can you sue your neighbor for failing to help you when he had the chance, thereby exacerbating your injuries from the accident?
Unfortunately, the answer is most likely no. In New Jersey, as in most states, there is no law or legal precedent requiring an uninvolved bystander to help an injured person. The so-called duty to rescue may exist within our moral and ethical sensibilities, but in general an individual can be held legally liable for failing to help an injured person only if he or she:
Caused the accident or created the dangerous situation that resulted in the injury
Had a contractual or professional duty to help
Is the parent, guardian, or spouse of the injured person
Has another special relationship with the injured, such as employer-employee or school-student
Owns the property on which the injury occurred (unless the injured person was trespassing)
Owns and operates a commercial vehicle on which the injured was a passenger
Although New Jersey law in most cases does not obligate someone to help, it does, at least, try not to discourage it: The Good Samaritan Act provides civil immunity from liability for those who render assistance in good faith at the scene of an accident.