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When evacuating a vehicle or a building in distress, the evacuees are normally supposed to leave their belongings behind. This doesn't always happen.

Technically, if actual harm comes to others through such action, it could count as endangerment or similar crimes of negligence. Of course, going after people who have been through an accident is unlikely to be a law enforcement priority, so has it ever happened?

I'm aware of cases against building owners, operators, or staff, which have impeded or obstructed an evacuation, but all of them have a duty of care.

Has a civilian not under the duty of care, such as a passenger, ever been criminally charged for obstructing an evacuation, in which they had been an evacuee?

I'm interested in any jurisdictions, and particularly in the strongest charges that have been brought in such a case.

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  • There is much more disgusting example - Aeroflot flight 1492 where 41 out of 78 peoples on board actually died. You can find videos online, the one from Guardian clearly shows people with sizeable hand luggage. I have not heard any passenger was prosecuted.
    – Mykola
    Jul 3, 2023 at 22:23

2 Answers 2

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In , you are likely charged if you actively interfere.

Let's preface this with the fact, that in Germany, people have a duty to aid in case of accidents, as long as you don't endanger yourself. The absolute minimum is to call the emergency service and not obstruct those that render aid. However, just not rendering aid is rarely charged.

However, since a few years, people that slow down to make videos of crash sites or who stop to look at an accident, and in doing so block emergency helpers, are now almost routinely charged with obstruction of emergency workers, together with possibly other charges like assault and insult. One of the most prominent cases was in 2017, where the person attacked emergency workers and police. He was sentenced to 4 months for the various assaults and bodily injury.

Based on this case (where the person was just sentenced for resisting police and assault), it ultimately lead to a new law. One of many cases that started in 2023 had a similar pattern but the charge is based on the new law: § 323 c Abs. 2 StGB - not delivering aid and obstruction of aiding persons. This law allows up to one year of prison time for hindering any person rendering aid.

Also, creating pictures at accident sites that depict people or corpses and sharing them in a manner that is humiliating to the victims in itself can be a breach of § 201 a StGB - injury of privacy by means of photography. This can get a sentence of up to two years, and would most likely be joined by a charge of not delivering aid and obstructing helpers. Do note that this is not covering photos that were made for example as evidence of the situation or not shared with third parties.

Being in peril yourself...

When you technically are in peril yourself, you don't have to render aid. Being stupid like grabbing your carry-on luggage isn't technically covered by the law, and because the person is in danger themselves, it will be very hard for the prosecution to decide if they want to prosecute.

If Alice just grabs her carry-on in panic and nothing happens as she evacuates, charging will be extremely unlikely, as in, the chance is nigh nonexistent.

Bob, who steps out of the way of others while he calmly takes his things is not interfering with the rescue, and thus charging him is most likely not going to happen.

But Charly, who blocks the path of everybody because he wants to go to the other end of the plane to get his luggage and does not let anybody pass and thus increasing the danger of the situation (or even cause death) might break the threshold that the prosecution is willing to prosecute to make an example out of him. The more egregious his behavior was, the more they might look into if other charges can become applicable.

However, those other charges are usually not from the blocking or inaction, but from an action against someone that is in the same peril as the actor. If Dora during the building fire grabbed a fire axe and smacked it over someone's head while he was trying to evacuate her, so she could get her items from another room, that would be dangerous mayhem (§ 224 StGB, Gefährliche Körperverletzung).

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    In OPs case, it will probably matter whether the fact, that people cared more for their belongings than for others, did have any adverse effects. Charges will certainly be higher if the evacuation could not be completed in time - causing some persons to die - because people where looking for their bags.
    – PMF
    Jul 2, 2023 at 11:22
  • "However, since a few years, people that slow down to make videos of crash sites or who stop to look at an accident, and in doing so block emergency helpers" as far as I'm aware they don't need to block anyone. Gaffen (gawking) is already unlawful by itself. Jul 3, 2023 at 7:28
  • Thanks! This is very clear and detailed, I can see how the law works in this case. So for Germany, there are special laws for emergency situations.
    – Therac
    Jul 3, 2023 at 10:00
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    In addition, anyone who is in peril themselves may be in a state of panic where they cannot make rational decisions and their brain is hard-wired to focus on their own personal survival above all else. Prosecutors tend to be hesitant to fault someone in such a state unless the conduct is so extreme that it's clear the person should have known better.
    – bta
    Jul 3, 2023 at 16:41
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It’s unlikely that there is any criminality here

Failing to comply with the lawful order of police or emergency services allows the use of force to ensure compliance but is not itself an offence.

Obstructing the Minister or a person acting under the authority of the Minister during a declared State of Emergency is an offence but taking things you are told not to take is not obstruction. Legally, obstruction requires wilful interference, not just making things harder than they might otherwise have been.

It’s possible that failing to follow well defined and practiced emergency procedures might violate Work Health and Safety laws but that would only be for people who held a duty under them. Technically, this includes workers but their duty is slight and broad allowances are made - the assumption being that if a worker screws up this is due to inadequate training or supervision by the employer. Typically, for a worker to be charged, reckless disregard or wilfulness needs to be proved.

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  • I agree a worker is very unlikely to be charged with a criminal offence unless they do something utterly awful. But many companies keep records of health and safety training so it would be hard to say "I didn't know!" and someone might well be disciplined or even fired in such a situation. It's possible an employee would be noted and criticised in a public inquiry, coroner's inquest, etc, if their egregious actions caused death or serious injury, which might lead to legal action on the basis that authorities often look for someone to charge in contentious cases.
    – Stuart F
    Jul 3, 2023 at 13:50

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