Vince Wilfork (a)
Car crash victims invite rescue. But what considerations should rescuers contemplate before attempting rescue?
In the aftermath of a New England Patriots victory of the AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts, news from Foxborough publicized the heroic efforts of Patriots defensive tackle, Vince Wilfork, in helping to rescue a woman trapped in a car after it rolled over near Gillette Stadium.(1) The driver was charged with drunken driving, but fortunately, no other serious injuries have been reported.
In Massachusetts, the rights of a rescuer are primarily determined by three doctrines:
- No Duty to Rescue
- Good Samaritan Laws; and
- The Rescue Doctrine
First and foremost, although Vince Wilfork, and others may feel compelled to help in motor vehicle accident situations, Massachusetts Law does not require non-medical citizens to render care to victims of an accident. Inaction does not create liability.(2) But, once a bystander voluntarily undertakes the rescue of another person, that person has a duty to use reasonable care in providing assistance.
Vince Wilfork helps woman escape from car (b)
For people, like Wilfork, who are non-medical citizens, care rendered to an individual must not worsen the condition of the person they attempt to assist. This is distinguished from those with medical training, such as a doctor or nurse, who render aid at a scene that is based on good faith, and as a volunteer without fee. Under M.G.L. ch. 112, s. 12B, these individuals are exempt from civil liability.(3)
In this case, the risk of catastrophic worsening of an injury to the driver is high – especially with a vehicle rollover. Many have witnessed placement of injured victims on a spine board with application of a cervical collar. This is an attempt to stabilize an unrecognized unstable spine injury. Otherwise, movement of an individual with an unstable spine can result in catastrophic (and preventable) paralysis. Had it been the EMS/ambulance personnel who extracted the driver in this case, they are protected to a certain extent from liability. Wilfork would not share this protection from liability as a bystander without a medical background.
On the other hand, if Wilfork himself was injured during the rescue, he may have had rights against the driver. The Rescue Doctrine creates liability for the rescued party. This occurs if the rescued party was negligent in their actions that caused them to require rescue. In the Wilfork case, the driver of the vehicle that rolled over has been accused of drunken driving. Therefore, if Wilfork had sustained injuries in attempting to rescue the driver, the driver may be liable to Wilfork. Any operator’s negligence in causing an event which invites rescue creates liability for the operator.
It has been tweeted on social media that Vince Wilfork is a hero for rendering aid.(4) Rescue of accident victims remains a noble activity. Consideration, however, of one’s legal rights, especially for those without medical training, permits an informed decision in pursuing rescue maneuvers.
Dr. John, Esq. is an experienced physician and personal injury attorney available to answer medical-legal questions. Please direct questions or comments to
firstname.lastname@example.org and/or (617) 523-7771.
(1)WMUR 9 ABC, “Vince Wilfork Helps Driver Trapped in Rollover Crash,” 11:24 PM EST Jan 19, 2015, http://www.wmur.com/sports/vince-wilfork-helps-driver-trapped-in-rollover-crash/30799776
(2)The exception in a different context comes from M.G.L. ch. 268, s. 40 which creates a duty on the part of a witness to an aggravated rape, rape, murder, manslaughter or armed robbery to report the crime as soon as possible.
(3)M.G.L. ch. 111C, s. 21.
(4)James Beattie, Western Journalism, “New England Patriots Star Vince Wilfork and Wife Rescue Woman From Jeep,” January 19, 2015
(a)Vince Wilfork – By Keith Allison from Baltimore, USA (00205570.JPG) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
(b)Vince Wilfork helps woman escape from car – From MSPnews.org Official News Blog of the Massachusetts State Police , Original photo source