Virginia: Car Accident – a Lawyer’s Rescue

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Kimble v. Carey, 279 Va. 652 (2010) applied the “rescue doctrine” a/k/a the “humanitarian doctrine” in the context of a car accident in Interstate 64 in Henrico County, Virginia. The Virginia Supreme Court opined on the particular case facts that pre-rescue misconduct of the helpless party was irrelevant and that the rescuer’s alleged contributory negligence should have been decided by the jury.

“Most of the cases in our jurisprudence are based upon the branch of the rescue doctrine concerning suits brought by the rescuer against a third-party whose negligence placed a victim in a situation of imminent peril and the rescuer is injured by the third-party during the rescue attempt,” observed the Virginia Supreme Court in the Kimble car accident appeal. Id. at 659. “Based upon the facts of this case, we apply the branch of the rescue doctrine in which the victim may be liable to the rescuer based on the negligent acts of the victim which placed him or her in peril if those negligent acts also proximately caused the rescuer’s injuries during the attempted rescue.” Id. at 660.

“It makes no difference to rescue doctrine analysis whether the victim was guilty of simple negligence, gross negligence, or willful or wanton conduct in creating his or her peril, because the rescuer’s right to recover for injuries sustained during the rescue attempt rises or falls with the determination whether the rescuer acted rashly or recklessly,” explained Kimble in the car accident appeal. “If the rescuer acted rashly or recklessly, he or she is barred from recovery. However, if the rescuer did not act rashly or recklessly, and the victim was negligent in placing himself or herself in ‘apparent immediate peril of death or serious bodily harm’ the rescuer may recover.” Id. at 662.

“[A]s a general rule whether a person is guilty of contributory negligence in rushing into a place of danger to save another from imminent death or injury is a question for the jury,” pronounced the Kimble car accident opinion. Id. at 663. “[T]he rule is well settled that one who sees a person in imminent and serious peril caused by the negligence of another cannot be charged with contributory negligence, as a matter of law, in risking his own life or serious injury in attempting to effect a rescue, provided the attempt is not recklessly or rashly made.” Id. at 663-664 (emphasis added).