Does the duty-to-rescue apply in time of natural cause?

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Attorney in Munhall, PA

William R. Pelger

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Serving Munhall, PA

  • Serving Munhall, PA

  • Free initial consultation, Credit cards accepted, Fixed hourly rates

Attorney at firm Pelger Law

Serving Munhall, PA

Free initial consultation, Credit cards accepted, Fixed hourly rates

Q: The husband was displaying an abnormal behavior. The wife didn’t think too much about it. She stayed by his side until he had fallen asleep and then went to bed herself. The husband died in the middle of the night. The medical examiner stated the husband had a stroke, they couldn’t say confidently if he could have survived had the wife call 911 upon observing the abnormality. Does spouse have a duty to rescue? If not, why not? If yes, does that consider as negligence? If not, does this mean the wife could legally watch the husband die out of “natural” cause without trying to help him? If yes, how does the wife contribute to the husband’s injury/death given that the medical professional could not provide a definite answer on the survival rate? How would one differentiate negligence from involuntary manslaughter in this case? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: Sounds like a law school exam or college mid-term paper.  Too much missing information to answer competently. Also, the answer would constitute a brief spanning several areas of law. There is generally no duty to rescue. As one of my law school professors always quipped, “the law abhors a volunteer.” For criminal liability to apply, it would need to be proven that the wife knew or had reason to know that her husband had experienced a life-threatening medical event and she failed to act accordingly. This would be difficult to prove, unless she admitted it. Many states have expanded the criminal responsibility to those who supply or aid illegal substance usage in situations where another person dies of an overdose, but that is not an issue here as you describe it.

CRIMINAL LAW, DUTY TO RESCUE, CIVIL LIABILITY, CRIMINAL LIABILITY

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