Sacto 9-1-1
March 8, 2013
Ask Sacto 911 crime Q&A: Are public safety workers legally obligated to render aid?

Bee reporters answer questions about area crime news, trends and other issues.

QUESTION: Several years back, two CHP officers were accused of letting a kid die, from his fall from a bridge, by never calling for medical help for him. They did, however, call for a tow truck to tow his car away. Last I heard, this was still in the court system. Can you tell me what eventually happened?
Submitted by: Tom, Folsom

ANSWER: Although unable find information on the case described, there are similar cases in which the courts have ruled that public safety officers have no legal obligation to render assistance to citizens in distress.

In one case, according to a 1998 Associated Press story, two California Highway Patrol officers tapped on the window of a car beside the road at 2 a.m. They saw an unconscious woman inside, but after tapping on the window,they drove away. The woman was found dead of a brain hemorrhage two hours later.

Appeals court justices reviewing the July 1995 Orange County incident, said they were baffled by the officers' inaction but ruled that the officers had the law on their side.

Cited was a 1983 California Supreme Court decision that said public safety employees can be held liable only if they take action to help someone in distress and something goes wrong.

More recently, in a case that claimed the CHP was negligent in the manner in which its operators responded to a 911 call, a California appellate court ruled that, in the absence of a "special relationship", a person who has not created a peril has no duty to come to the aid of another.

This case involved a claim that the CHP was negligent in the manner in which its operators responded to a 911 call regarding a collision between a Greyhound bus and a sport-utility vehicle near Fresno. The court stated that "recovery of injuries by the failure of the CHP to respond to requests for assistance, to investigate properly, or to investigate at all will be denied unless CHP personnel induced reliance based on a promise, express or implied, that they would provide protection."

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Sacto 9-1-1 is a blog on crime and emergency services news in the Sacramento region.

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