If a minor that isn’t your child would die if unhelped, and you were the only one that could help them, is there any law saying you have to?

  • In what country?
    – Ron Beyer
    Apr 14, 2019 at 16:34
  • 1
    @Ron Beyer US or UK
    – Piomicron
    Apr 14, 2019 at 16:46
  • By "your child", do you mean that you are the legal guardian, or are you referring to biological children only irrespective of legal status? The other problem is the "only you can help" premise – that realistically implies something medical. You cannot be forced to donate your heart or kidney.
    – user6726
    Apr 14, 2019 at 17:49
  • 1
    @user6726 is right there needs to be more context to this question, especially on are you legally responsible for this child on an everyday basis. Apr 14, 2019 at 20:49
  • 1
    @StephanS I agree that there is not enough context here. There is definitely not a rule that say you only have legal responsibility for your biological children under all circumstances. Indeed, most child abuse and child neglect charges are brought against adults who are not biological parents of the child who live with the child, or in whose care the child has been placed. Once a child is left in your care, whether or not this was fully voluntary, you are responsible for that child legally.
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 15, 2019 at 0:07

2 Answers 2


The law imposes no general duty to “care for” anyone

For example, unless you are a lifeguard, there is no duty to render aid to a drowning person.

There are a number of specific duties including:

  • the duty of a parent or guardian to provide for and keep safe a child
  • a similar duty for anyone standing in loco parentis - in the place of a parent. This can be a person or an organisation: a babysitter is an example of the former, a school is an example of the latter.
  • a duty under negligence where you have a duty of care
  • a duty to report child abuse (including neglect) that is imposed on some occupations
  • a general duty to report crimes that may be imposed on all members of the public in some jurisdictions
  • a duty to stop and render aid imposed on drivers

This list is not exhaustive.

  • 3
    I suspect that "a similar duty for anyone standing in loco parentis - in the place of a parent" covers a lot of situations that the person asking the question might be concerned about. For example, if you are in a household with a girlfriend or roommate's child and the responsible adult is absent leaving you with the child, that probably imposes an in loco parentis duty on the de facto temporary babysitter.
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 15, 2019 at 0:03
  • @ohwilleke I suspect you may be right but the OP didn’t ask about that specifically so “shrug”. They can ask a follow up question if it’s important.
    – Dale M
    Apr 15, 2019 at 0:06
  • I emphasize the point because I'm concerned that someone reading this, or perhaps the person asking it, might get the wrong impression that there are no duties to minors who aren't your biological children, and act inappropriately as a result.
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 15, 2019 at 0:09
  • 1
    @ohwilleke I have expanded with some examples.
    – Dale M
    Apr 15, 2019 at 2:00

You generally won't be legally punished if you don't rescue someone in need.

There are two exceptions to this.

  1. If you created a hazardous situation in which someone is injured.
  2. A parent has a duty to rescue their minor from a dangerous situation.

information from Duty to rescue.

Some states do have laws called "Good Samaritan law", which do increase your level of responsibility to others in need, but those vary state by state.

On the other hand, if you start a rescue you are responsible to see it through, and if your effort to rescue results in the situation becoming worse you could be held liable.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .