Under the Good Samaritan Rule, if a Good Samaritan provides services for another, either gratuitously or for compensation, the Good Samaritan assumes a duty to use reasonable care. The Good Samaritan may be held liable if they are negligent in providing those services or if their negligence causes injury either to the person on whose behalf the Good Samaritan is performing services or to a foreseeable third party.
According to common law, a bystander is not under a moral obligation to help if they did not cause the person’s injury. In Hurley v. Eddingfield, the defendant was a family physician who, for no apparent reason, refused to travel to render medical assistance even when he was the only one who could help. The court found that the defendant was not liable, because the defendant did not assume a duty to help.
However, if a Good Samaritan (with no duty to do so) takes charge of a helpless person, the Good Samaritan has assumed a duty to exercise reasonable care while the person is in their charge. And, if the Good Samaritan has taken charge, they are subject to a duty of reasonable care to refrain from putting the person in a worse position than before the Good Samaritan took charge.
In criminal law, no legal duty to act is created based upon a mere moral obligation. A legal duty to act requires more than being a Good Samaritan.
In People v. Beardsley, the defendant had an affair with a woman at his apartment. The woman died from taking morphine. Ultimately, the court held that the defendant had no duty to act because there was no special relationship between the defendant and the woman. In order to be held liable, there must be a duty imposed by law or by contract, and the omission to perform the duty must be the immediate and direct cause of death.
[Last updated in January of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]