As I understand it: 'duty to rescue' does not generally exist for regular citizens in the USA. (Some exceptions apply!)

Let's say I'm in Europe and I call the general inquiry phone number of a local (city) police department in the United States to report a suicidal individual local to them. Do any of the following entities have a 'duty to rescue' in the following situations?:

  1. Police officers answering the phone.
  2. Non-police officer employees answering phones at a (local?) PD.
  3. The dispatch operators that #1 and #2 connect me to.
  4. The dispatch operators I get when I dial 911 while being in the USA myself.
  5. The legal entities of either the police department or the emergency services dispatch (or other involved party?)

Note: I have tried to keep this question as narrow/focused as possible. Let me know if there's any issues with the question. I'm not familiar with law all that much.

1 Answer 1



More generally, government agencies have no duty to protect.

In the cases DeShaney vs. Winnebago and Town of Castle Rock vs. Gonzales, the supreme court has ruled that police agencies are not obligated to provide protection of citizens. In other words, police are well within their rights to pick and choose when to intervene to protect the lives and property of others — even when a threat is apparent.

In the , the situation is the same with the relevant case being Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, a precedent followed in .

However, the police, fire fighters, ambulance officers etc. do owe the same common law duty of care as everyone else where such a duty exists if and when they do choose to act, unless specifically exempted by law. For example, they owe a duty to people in custody or innocent bystanders.

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