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Can You Be Liable For Failing To Act?

If someone is being injured, in most cases, individuals will go to assist whenever it is possible. It is an action that most don’t think twice about. There are times where someone doesn’t act in order to help someone who needs it. Is this against the law? Can that person actually be held accountable for not assisting or taking any action to prevent an injury? This could include failing to act and causing an injury such as running a red light at a traffic stop when you have passengers in the vehicle. However, there are some exceptions that you should be aware of in this situation.

No Broad Duty to Help

Personal Injury Lawyer in Waterloo knows that there is a certain duty of care that everyone must be held accountable for in certain situations and if that duty of care is not practiced, then an individual could be found negligent if an injury occurs. An example of this would be running the red light as mentioned above.

There is no set law that covers or doesn’t cover an individual if they are found to be in this situation. Before you can be held accountable for failing to act, the law would need to consider the situation and find it to be relevant.

A “Special Relationship” Can Trigger a Duty to Help

There are times when a special relationship is considered a requirement for taking action. What defines a special relationship?

• A parent or guardian to a child that receives an injury
• A school staff member to students
• An employee of a train, bus, plane, or other public transportation to its passengers
• An employer to his/her employee
• A social host to their guest
• Spouses


If a teacher or principal sees a student is choking in the cafeteria at lunch, it is up to that teacher or principal to act in order to save the child’s life. He or she may need to perform the Heimlich maneuver and call first responders.

A husband sees that his wife has fallen down some stairs inside their home. He has a legal duty to assist his wife up or to call an ambulance if one is needed. However, if a mother-in-law or sister-in-law falls, he is not obligated to assist.

If a passenger is boarding the bus but slips after reaching the top of the steps, the driver and the assistant has an obligation to assist the individual who fell before proceeding on the route.

Let’s say that the neighbors are hosting a party and while at the party, the other neighbor down the street attends the party and while walking to the door, they fall on some wet leaves and broke their ankle. The homeowner is responsible and liable to assist that individual who fell.