Attorney Nicholas Dodosh Shares About the Recent New York Post Photo and Bystander’s Duties

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Who is liable to help a bystander that is in trouble?

Charles E. Boyk Law Offices, LLC

One of the big stories in the media lately has to do with a man who was pushed onto the tracks of a New York City subway train and was killed by the approaching train. A twist in the story is how a freelance photographer, R. Umar Abbasi, took a picture of the man as he attempted to pull himself up from the tracks onto the safety of the platform. The photograph ran on the front cover of the December 4, 2012 edition of The New York Post with the headline, “Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die. DOOMED.”

Many have asked: could the photographer, rather than taking the picture, have run over and helped to pull the man up onto the platform? Mr. Abbasi insists that he could not. However, attorney Nicholas Dodosh addresses a legal question as to whether bystanders have a legal duty to help those in the position such as the man who was pushed onto the tracks. Mr. Dodosh states, "No matter how one feels morally about the situation, the law generally does not require simple bystanders to render aid to anyone." In other words, someone can legally stand by and watch a person drown or have a heart attack and they will not be subject to criminal or civil liability for failing to help.

However, as is so common with the law, there are exceptions. If there is a “special relationship” between the person in peril and the potential rescuer, then the rescuer must take action or be subject to criminal or civil liability. Common special relationships that the law recognizes are parent-child, common carriers-guests, innkeepers-guests, shopkeepers-customers, contractual duties, employer-employee relationships, and some others. Also, if the person is in peril due to the potential rescuer’s own conduct, the rescuer has a duty to spring into action and help. There may be other exceptions depending on the jurisdiction in which the incident takes place.

None of these exceptions apply to the situation that happened on the New York City subway. As such, while perhaps facing moral condemnation, Mr. Abbasi will not be subject to any civil or criminal liability for failing to attempt to help the fallen man. When presented with the age old question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” the law says you are not.

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