ABC News is reporting the death of a man who stopped at a motor vehicle accident to assist the injured (see Good Samaritan killed at car crash scene).  This is a tragedy and our sympathy goes to the dead man and his family.

It may reassure people to know that the law has recognised that people will come forward to assist at accidents and may, by doing so, expose themselves to danger.   The law provides that if the originally accident was due to someone’s negligence, then the driver at fault is also liable for the further injury to the good Samaritan (Wagner v International Railway Co 133 NE 437 (1921) (United States); Videan v British Transport Commission [1963] 2 QB 650 (United Kingdom) and Chapman v Hearse [1961] HCA 46 (Australia)) and further, that allegations of contributory negligence ie alleging that the deceased did not take ‘reasonable care’ of his own safety by voluntary stepping up to an accident, will not be heard (Ward v TE Hopkins & Sons Ltd [1959] 3 All ER 225 (United Kingdom); Hirst v Nominal Defendant [2005] QCA 65 (Queensland)).

The famous English judge, Lord Denning said “Whoever comes to the rescue, the law should see that he does not suffer for it” (Videan v British Transport Commission [1963] 2 QB 650 at 669) and in 1998 it was said:

“The law does not require persons to go to the rescue of others in peril but should a person choose to do so and be injured in the process, the law will not see him unprotected… Also, the law regards rescuers with considerable kindness.  Generally, they will not be found guilty of contributory negligence or be found to be volenti [that is to have voluntarily accepted the risk of injury].  They acted out of generosity, sometimes bravery and must be treated accordingly.’  (Lister v Hoban Nominees Pty Ltd [1998] South Australian District Court 3943at [42]).

Whilst it will be little consolation, a person injured whilst rendering assistance at an accident should be reasonably confident that they will be entitled to compensation under the motor accidents compensation scheme in each state.

Michael Eburn

17 June 2012

Updated 20 June.