Specific Legal Duties
Courts have developed special rules regarding the duty that a defendant may have in a specific case. Where a duty does exist, it is based on specific circumstances or the nature of the relationship between the parties.
Duty to Rescue
The general rule is that a person has no duty to rescue another person who is in peril. Even in an extreme situation, such as where an adult sees a child trapped on top of railroad tracks, courts generally hold that a person is under no duty to come to the aid of another. Courts, however, recognize several exceptions. These include the following:
- The Defendant Created the Peril. Where the defendant's negligence created the need for the plaintiff to be rescued, the defendant is generally under a duty to rescue the plaintiff.
- Undertaking to Act. If a defendant begins to rescue a person but then stops, in some instances the defendant may be under a duty to continue the rescue. Most courts require that the defendant act reasonably once the rescue has begun. If a reasonable person would have continued to rescue the victim, then the defendant may have been under a duty to continue the rescue.
- Special Relationship. A defendant may have the duty to rescue a person where the defendant has a special relationship with the victim, such as in an employer-employee or a school-student relationship.
Duty to Control
A person generally has no duty to control the actions of another person. However, in some relationships, this duty may arise. The most common example involves a parent and child. If a parent is aware of a child's dangerous propensities, then the parent is generally under a duty to exercise reasonable care in controlling the child.
Duty to Protect
A defendant may have a duty to protect a plaintiff based on the defendant's relationship with the plaintiff. This most clearly applies in cases involving jailors and prisoners or innkeepers and guests. Some courts have imposed a duty to protect based on other relationships, including landlord-tenant and business-patron relationships, but the law is less clear about duties in these instances.