Synopsis of Rule of Law. The mere knowledge of serious peril threatening death or great bodily harm to another, which an identified defendant might avoid with little inconvenience, creates a sufficient relation to impose a duty of action.
The fundamental question is whether the plaintiff's interests are entitled to legal protection against the defendant's conduct.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Whether passenger defendants, whose actions did not result in the car accident, nevertheless had a duty to prevent bodily harm to the victim of the accident.
Held. Yes. Ordinarily, mere presence at the commission of a wrong is not enough to charge one with responsibility to go to the aid of another human being who is in danger of losing his life. However, a duty of affirmative action may be found where there is some “definite relation between the parties of such a character that social policy justifies the imposition of a duty to act.” The mere knowledge of serious peril threatening death or great bodily harm to another, which an identified defendant might avoid with little inconvenience, creates a sufficient relation to impose a duty of action. The court found that the record contained facts from which a reasonable jury could find defendants breached a duty which proximately caused Podias’ death. The risk of harm or death to Podias from the defendants’ failure to summon help was readily foreseeable. In addition, the harm to the victim could have been prevented with relative ease. All three had cell phones and used them for their own purposes rather than to call for emergency assistance. Accordingly, the appeals court reversed the trial court’s granting summary judgment for defendants and remanded.
Discussion. The Restatement Third of Torts § 43 recognizes that an actor who undertakes to render services to another, when the actor knows or should know that those services will reduce the risk of harm to the other, has a duty to exercise reasonable care in rendering those services if the failure to exercise reasonable care would increase the risk of harm beyond which would have existed without the undertaking; or if the other person relies on the actor’s using reasonable care in the undertaking.