A search and rescue training during a man overboard drill

Sipa USA

How rescue doctrines protect 'heroes' from searches gone wrong

March 18, 2019 - 3:30 am

By Amy E. Feldman, Judge Technology Solutions

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Everybody loves a hero — except the ones who were heroically saved and then sued by him. 

In 2015, a rescue party searched for two California teens who had gone missing during a hike. The teens were later found — smoking meth. 

During the rescue, one of the rescuers fell off a 110-foot cliff, breaking his back and racking up $500,000 in medical costs. The rescuer sued the so-called victims. 

We all seek a happy ending but sometimes the so-called victim is actually a dummy who got himself in trouble, and it's the rescuer who is imperiled. 

There are laws in every state, called Good Samaritan laws, that protect rescuers from being sued. But less well-known is a doctrine called the rescue doctrine, which says if a rescuer of a person hurt or put in peril due to the negligence or intentional wrongdoing, and another is injured in the process of the rescue, the original wrongdoer is responsible in damages for the rescuer's injury. 

So when the horribly injured rescuer discovered he'd broken his back looking for two lost meth heads, he sued — and recently won his case. 

A happy ending. Kind of.