October 2, 2023

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The Rescue Doctrine

The Rescue Doctrine

Sometimes a person’s efforts to rescue another person in danger can result in injury to the rescuer. Illinois courts have long recognized the rescue doctrine, which allows the injured rescuer to bring a lawsuit against the person that caused the situation requiring rescue. For example, if a dog-owner lets his vicious dog roam the streets, he can be held liable for bite injuries sustained by a woman while she was trying to protect her child from the dog.

But what happens when a rescuer is hurt while trying to save a person who puts himself (as opposed to another person) in danger? Does the rescuer have the right to sue? In a recent decision, the Illinois Appellate court held that the answer to that question was “yes.”

Under the facts alleged in this case, Mrs. A called her sister, Mrs. C, because Mrs. A couldn’t find her husband (Mr. A) and was worried that he might attempt suicide. Mrs. A asked Mrs. C and her husband (Mr. C) to help look for Mr. A. They allegedly found Mr. A. in a fenced-in property in a car with a hose running from the exhaust pipe to the car’s window. Mr. C jumped over the fence to rescue Mr. A and hurt his foot while doing so.

Mr. and Mrs. C sued Mr. and Mrs. A for the injury. The trial court determined that Mr. A was not liable for Mr. C’s injuries. The Appellate Court, however, reversed that decision. When a certain issue has never been decided in a state, the court may look to the decisions of other states in cases involving the same issue. The Illinois Court noted that every court that had decided the issue came to the determination that a rescuer who is injured while rescuing someone who put himself in danger can recover from that person for his injuries.

The rationale behind the court’s decision was that there was no logical reason to distinguish situations where a person puts someone else in danger and situations where a person puts himself in danger. The court held that this logic applied even where someone is attempting suicide, as in this case.

This case demonstrates that Illinois courts look favorably on the rights of people who make efforts to help others. This policy encourages people to do the right thing when they see another person in danger. However, the laws governing the rights of persons who attempt to rescue others and the liabilities of those who cause the rescue to occur are complex and you should consult your attorney with respect to any individual fact situation.