SW Legal studies in Business

Rescue Doctrine Not Appropriate for Helping Get a Car Out of the Ditch
Description Alabama high court held that a man who injured his arm while helping to pull a car out of a ditch, could not sue the owner of the car for his injury under the rescue doctrine. The occupants of the car were not in a position of danger and there was no tort of negligence in getting the car into the ditch.
Topic Torts
Key Words Negligence; Rescue Doctrine
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Vess was driving his daughter to the hospital for medical tests. There was ice on the road and he skidded into the ditch. Though his car was stuck, Vess and his daughter were not injured. Trapp stopped to help. While helping other men pull on the car, Trapp tore a tendon in his arm, which required surgery to repair. Trapp sued Vess and Vess's insurance company, claiming that the injury to his arm resulted from Vess's negligence in driving into the ditch. The trial court held for Vess and his insurance company. Trapp appealed.

Trapp argued that he was entitled to recovery based on the rescue doctrine. "The rescue doctrine arose as a way to establish causal relation between the action of the defendant and the harm to a rescuer and to prohibit the negligent defendant from using the affirmative defenses of assumption of the risk and contributory negligence against the rescuer. The rescue doctrine allows a person who sustains an injury when he or she comes to the aid of another in peril to recover damages based upon the negligence of the tortfeasor, despite the absence of proximate cause." However, Vess was not a tortfeasor. Skidding into a ditch due to ice one the road is not necessarily negligence; there was no police citation. Furthermore, "to claim the status of a rescuer, a party must establish that he had a reasonable belief that the person he was trying to rescue was in a dangerous position." Vess was in the ditch, but there was no injury or peril. Consequently, Trapp is not a rescuer as defined by the rescue doctrine.

Citation Trapp v. Vess, --- So.2d --- (2002 WL 31151352, Sup. Ct., Ala., 2002)

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