Laughing teens not obliged to rescue drowning man
It may be reprehensible and morally outrageous, but legal experts say a group of Florida teens had no obligation to rescue a drowning disabled man whom they instead mocked, laughed at and recorded on a video that was later posted online.
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, in a 2012 legal argument, summarized that across the United States there’s no general duty to render aid to someone in distress.
“You don’t have the duty to rescue someone if that person is in danger. The blind man is walking in front of a car and you do not have a duty to stop him absent some relation between you,” Kennedy said in arguments on the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.”
Kennedy added that there are “some severe moral criticisms of that rule, but that’s generally the rule.”
The case in Central Florida’s Brevard County involves the July 9 drowning of Jamel Dunn, 31, in a retention pond. Police in the city of Cocoa discovered later that five teens, ages 14 to 16, had made a video of the drowning. The teens can be heard laughing at Dunn, telling him he’s going die and that they weren’t going to help him as he struggled and screamed.
Police identified and interviewed the five teens involved. The office of State Attorney Phil Archer determined there was no immediate indication that a crime was committed because state law does not require people give or call for help when someone is in distress. Archer’s office said Friday prosecutors will review the entire police file to see if any other criminal violations might apply.
“We’re doing to give a thorough review to all the evidence,” spokesperson Todd Brown said.
Many countries, including Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy and Russia, do have laws requiring people to render aid, even if it means only summoning authorities. And violations in some countries can result in prison time.
But Florida’s law is hardly unique across the U.S., legal experts said.
“Generally, throughout the U.S., there is no duty to rescue,” said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice. Still, he added, “It seems like common sense that those kids should have tried to help the guy instead of filming it.”
There are differences in various states, but Weinstein said exceptions typically include required assistance in car crashes; for people in special relationships with others such as police officers, firefighters, teachers, married couples, common carriers such as bus drivers and employers; and if you yourself put the other person in danger in the first place.