In January 2016, Jamie Foxx rescued a man from his crashed pickup truck before it caught on fire. Brett Kyle’s truck crashed in front of Foxx’s home. Foxx and an off-duty EMT cut Kyle’s seatbelt and pulled him out of the overturned truck before the vehicle became engulfed in flames.
During Foxx’s interview with KCAL, he stated that he didn’t consider his act heroic, “I just look at it as… you just had to do something.” But did Jamie Foxx have any legal responsibility toward Brett Kyle? Did Foxx have to do anything at all?
Duty to Rescue
In general, an average person does not have a duty to rescue someone just because they encounter them. Usually, a duty to rescue only arises when a special relationship exists.
Special relationships can include employer-employee relationships, owners of property and their invitees, and carriers such as bus drivers and their passengers. Jamie Foxx didn’t have a special relationship with Brett Kyle, so he had no duty to rescue. Foxx could have ignored the accident instead without any worry of prosecution for failing to do something.
The off-duty EMT who assisted Foxx also does not have an obligation to stop and assist in the state of California. Some jurisdictions have statutes that require off-duty first responders and physicians to act if they encounter someone in danger or in need of medical assistance. California, however, does not require any off-duty first responders from acting. But, if an off-duty EMT does start a rescue, they can only perform basic medical procedures. Advanced medical procedures can only be conducted by those on-duty.
However, once Foxx and the EMT started their rescue efforts, they could be held liable from stopping their rescue if stopping would have been unreasonable. Reasonable care should always be taken during a rescue. No one expects a regular person to put themselves in harm to rescue another person. However, once a rescue is started, the rescuers are legally obligated to see the rescue through. A duty to rescue can also be created if you are the one who created the dangerous situation.
What If Foxx Was Injured During the Rescue?
Jamie Foxx is a wealthy man and probably wasn’t too worried about affording medical treatments for any number of scrapes during the rescue, but what happens to the average rescuer? Who covers his injuries?
Rescuers themselves are usually not responsible for the injuries they acquire during the rescue. Instead, the person who created the emergency is usually held responsible. This concept, called the rescue doctrine, encourages rescuers to try and do what they can by ensuring that they can potentially sue the person at fault for the emergency situation.
When someone causes an emergency situation (such as a fire), they should reasonably assume that rescuers will make reasonable attempts to save people from that situation. So, any injuries that the rescuer gets from the rescue should be something that the person at fault should expect.
The rescuer doctrine only applies to those who don’t have a special relationship or legal obligation to do the rescue in the first place. First responders who are on-duty, such as firefighters and police, cannot hold anyone liable for the injuries they receive during a rescue.
What If Kyle Was Injured By Foxx During His Rescue?
Depending on the jurisdiction, a Good Samaritan law may shield a rescuer from liability if their rescue results in injury. Good Samaritan laws usually cover most injuries unless the Good Samaritan acted negligently. In other words, if a Good Samaritan uses a reasonable amount of care that any ordinary person would use in that situation, they would be shielded from liability.
In California, where Foxx rescued Kyle, a Good Samaritan is someone who renders care at the scene of an emergency and does not take any form of compensation for their actions. So, Jamie Foxx would be considered a Good Samaritan under California law and would be protected from lawsuit if he accidentally injured Brett Kyle during his rescue.
Jamie Foxx didn’t have any duty to help Brett Kyle, but he went above and beyond expectations to rescue a man in potential danger. Although Foxx remains humble about the rescue, his act is heroic nonetheless.
Authored by Emily Yu, LegalMatch Legal Writer