If you are injured while attempting to rescue an individual in peril, Pennsylvania law may provide you with a legal remedy. Pennsylvania Courts have continued to uphold the rescue doctrine, allowing plaintiffs to recover monetary damages for injuries sustained while attempting to rescue an individual who has placed themselves in a situation of urgent and immediate danger to life or property. The rescue doctrine may also allow for recovery against the individual or entity that created the dangerous condition or situation that has caused the rescuee to be placed in peril. See Pachesky v. Getz, 510 A.2d 776 (Pa.Super. 1986).
In order to recover based upon this doctrine, it is essential to show not only that the rescuee has been placed in a situation of peril, but that this peril was created by the negligent actions of either the rescuee himself or a third-party. It is also essential to show that the plaintiff’s rescue attempt was reasonable, meaning that he had reason to believe that the rescuee was in immediate peril and that the rescue attempt was conducted in a reasonable manner under the circumstances. If the plaintiff’s rescue attempt is deemed unreasonable, plaintiff’s recovery will be reduced accordingly or possibly completely nullified.
Perhaps this doctrine is best illustrated though the use of a hypothetical. Suppose that an 8-year-old child becomes lodged between the bars of a ferris wheel at an amusement park while the ride is temporarily stopped. The child immediately begins to scream in fear. Upon hearing this scream and noticing the child’s predicament, the plaintiff/rescuer attempts to rescue the child by dislodging him from the ride. The plaintiff/rescuer believes that if he fails to dislodge the child before the ride begins to move, the child will be seriously injured. During the course of dislodging the child, the plaintiff/rescuer suffers a serious and debilitating injury to his back.
In this situation, it seems relatively clear that the child was in a situation of immediate danger. Accordingly, it seems clear that the plaintiff/rescuer had adequate reason to believe that a rescue attempt was necessary before the ride began to move. Assuming that plaintiff’s attempt to dislodge the child was conducted in a reasonable manner, plaintiff’s recovery will not be reduced or nullified. The question then becomes whether the child was placed in this situation due to his own negligence or the negligence of a third-party. Due to the fact that the child is only 8-years-old, it may be difficult to prove that the child’s own negligence created the peril. It can be argued that a child of this age was unable to appreciate the danger involved and simply didn’t know any better. However, it may be possible to prevail by arguing that the amusement park negligently created the dangerous condition that caused the child to be placed in peril. Perhaps the bars on the ride were broken or defective, allowing the child to become lodged between them or perhaps they were simply spaced too far apart.