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Hitler* is walking down the street. Suddenly he has a heart attack and collapses.

Alice sees this. She considers calling 911 or giving CPR but realises it's Hitler and decides not to. Bob also sees and is about to help.

If Alice tells Bob not to help Hitler and Hitler dies, could either be considered liable?

Jurisdiction is US (not Minnesota), though interested in answers from anywhere without Duty to Help.

*For purposes of the example, the victim is a disliked person. Rather than use a contemporary example and derail the thread, it's Hitler.

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  • Is MN law special in this regard? Or are people in MN just so nice that it could never happen there, perhaps as cultural spillover from Canada?
    – ohwilleke
    May 4 at 18:33
  • 1
    @ohwilleke As far as I can tell, Minnesota's duty to help laws would oblige Alice and Bob to help. This makes the question moot.
    – Unfair-Ban
    May 4 at 22:15
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In the U.S. (as well as most Common Law jurisdictions the world over) there is no "Duty To Rescue" that is universal to all cases. Such a duty only arises under certain conditions specific to the nature of the incident and include:

  • When the person creates a hazardous situation (I.E. In a car accident, regardless of fault, both drivers have a duty to rescue.).

  • Parents, Legal Gaurdians, and in loco parentis of minor children.

  • Common Carriers to patrons (Such as Captain Sully walking the plane back and forth looking for any passengers who had not evacuated before he left during the Miracle on the Hudson)

  • Employers towards Employees

  • Real Property Owners to Invited Guests and Social visits. In some jurisdictions this is extended to trespassers, though in the U.S. this is not a hard rule.

  • In 10 states, one has a duty to notify law enforcement when encountering a stranger in need of rescue assistance (not including the aforementioned Minnesota, the other nine are: CA, FL, HI, Mass, OH, RI, VT, WA, WI).

In all cases, duty to rescue does not apply if in the course of the rescue the rescuer is exposing themselves to danger (So if Hitler was in pool and being electrocuted by a downed electric wire the Life Guard could refuse to rescue because jumping into water that is conducting an electrical current is a risk to the Guard, even though he would have a Duty to Rescue as he is a Common Carrier and Hitler is his patron.). It would be wrong if Hitler was refused rescue from a different situation because the Life Guard was Jewish.

In your initial scenario, Alice does not have a Duty to Rescue Hitler from the outset, however, there is a scenario where Alice's Duty to Rescue could change. Depending on what methods she uses to convince Bob that Hitler should not be saved, she might be introducing a hazard into the situation if she impedes Bob from an initial reaction to rescue Hitler (I just want to point out that this is one of the most unusual out of context sentences I've written on this site.). It would matter how committed Bob was to saving the life of a man he may not have known was Hitler OR if Alice took physical actions to impede Bob from his decision to rescue Hitler.

Bob would be liable if and only if, once he began to actively save Hitler's life, Alice makes an argument that convinces Bob to cease these activities under his own volition. This liability could be arguably shared with Alice, as both created a hazardous situation for Hitler (Bob by his cessation of an ongoing attempt to rescue and Alice by her argument. But For Bob's refusal to render further aide, Hitler would have lived. But for Alice's arguments to Bob to let Hitler die, Bob would have continued to save Hitler's life.). This one is a bit harder to argue, however, it is something I could see a judge considering.

With out more details into the specifics of your scenario, I cannot give you more than a speculative guess at the answer as it is presented. As such, absent this evidence, I must assume that innocence of wrong doing on the parts of both Alice and Bob unless and until these details are fleshed out.

I will however close with the caveat that in the U.S., what is legal is not always what is moral. In Hitler's Germany, what was moral was not always what was legal. However, when in the course of events, there is a rare intersection between that which is Moral and that which is Legal you will find that which we are and that which speaks loudest of all. Mercy for the devil is mercy none the less. And as one great fictional legal master noted, Mercy is twice blessed.

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To stay with your example: The legal situation in Germany.

Section § 323c of the German Criminal Code (StGB) covers your examples.

Failure to render assistance; obstruction of persons rendering assistance

(1) Whoever fails to render assistance in case of misfortune or common danger or distress, although this is necessary and can be reasonably expected of him under the circumstances, in particular without considerable danger to himself and without violation of other important duties, shall be punished with imprisonment for not more than one year or with a fine.

(2) Likewise, anyone who obstructs a person who is providing or wishes to provide assistance to a third party in these situations shall be punished.

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  • 1
    OP wrote: "interested in answers from anywhere without Duty to Help." It seems that Germany has such a duty May 4 at 17:36
  • 1
    Is providing a person with information that is likely to cause them to not render aid "obstructing" them? May 4 at 17:37
  • @Acccumulation My gut sense would be "no" unless the person was lying and saying, e.g., that he had poison on his body so you can't touch him.
    – ohwilleke
    May 4 at 18:36
  • Actually, providing instructions knowing they will not help is obstruction in Germany.
    – Trish
    May 5 at 10:06

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