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Quo iure? Defendants' liability to rescuers in the tort of negligence
journal contributionposted on 2001-07-01, 00:00 authored by Danuta MendelsonDanuta Mendelson
The year 2001 marks the 80th anniversary of Cardozo J's judgment in Wagner v International Railway Co 232 NY 176 (1921). This article examines theoretical and procedural problems associated with the concept of duty of care as a foundation for the defendant's liability in negligence to altruistic rescuers, and suggests that Cardozo J's judgment did not establish the principle that defendants owe rescuers a duty of care in negligence. It is argued that subsequent judgments failed to provide the duty of care owed to rescuers under tortious negligence with proper jurisprudential foundations. Conceptual difficulties inherent in a jurisprudential principle that would provide physically injured rescuers with a legal right to a duty of care from the defendant under the tort of negligence were compounded once compensation for negligently occasioned pure emotional distress became available. This article analyses various theories of recovery for pure psychiatric injury and the classification of rescuers into primary and secondary victims. It proposes a solution in the form of a separate cause of action on the case for liability to injured rescuers, partly based on the principle of necessity that governs the Roman action for negotiorum gestio. Cases from the United States, England and Australia are used to illustrate the similarities and differences in the development of and approaches to, the law of rescue.