Few States Have Laws Punishing ‘Bad Samaritans’

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In the video, Jamel Dunn can be seen flailing in the middle of a Florida pond, his head sinking deeper in the water with every gasping breath. In the background, teenagers are laughing and mocking him. “Ain’t nobody’s gonna help you,” one yells. Seconds later, Dunn, 31, drowns. Months after the July episode, which was posted online and seen by millions, the teens have faced public outrage, but no legal action. While many agree that what they did was immoral, it wasn’t illegal. Not everyone thinks it should be, Stateline reports.

See also: Should We Legislate a Duty to Rescue?

There is no law in Florida, or in most states, that requires someone to act when they see someone else in grave danger. There is no duty to attempt a rescue, or even to call for help. That’s unconscionable for many who watched Dunn’s drowning, including legislators in Arizona and Florida who are drafting proposals that would make it illegal to sit idly by if you see someone in grave danger. The laws would impose either a duty to rescue or duty to call 911 or otherwise alert authorities during emergencies. Only a handful of states have similar, broad “bad Samaritan laws,” which apply to any bystander who witnesses an emergency or crime. Ken Levy, a law professor at Louisiana State University, say the laws save lives and help ensure that people who don’t act are punished. Libertarians oppose the laws, and some legal experts argue they may not be effective. Minnesota, Rhode Island and Vermont impose a broad duty to rescue others in an emergency, and three other states —Hawaii, Washington and Wisconsin — impose a broad duty to report crimes to authorities.

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