First Aid & The Law Part 3:  The Rest of The World

14th May 2018

Disclaimer: Because of the generalisations made in this article, it should be taken only as guidance rather than legal advice. For definitive information, consult a legal expert.

In the previous articles we looked at some of the legal instruments which protect individuals who attempt to help others.  In this article we look at some of the differences in the legal situation in other countries.

If you are traveling abroad, it is important to understand the laws in those countries.

Do I have to help?

In many countries including the UK and USA, there is no legal duty to assist someone who is in need of help.  That said, certain exceptions do exist; in his to the case of Becky Morgan who fell into the sea at the Port of Ramsgate.  The man she was with - Michael Bowditch - did nothing to help her, indeed he was seen clubbing shortly after and only phoned the police approximately 2 hours afterwards.  Bowditch's failure to alert the emergency services to Ms Morgan's situation resulted in her drowning.  Bowditch was subsequently jailed for 5 and a half years as, being the only person aware of Ms Morgan's situation, his failure to assist amounted to negligence and a breach of his duty of care.

Jamel Dunn's drowning in Florida was filmed. 

Jamel Dunn's drowning in Florida was filmed. 

Compare this to the case of Jamel Dunn who, on 9th July 2017, drowned in Florida.  Dunn was filed as a missing person on 12th July and his body was found on 14th July.  Mr Dunn was filmed drowning by five teenagers who witnessed the event and did nothing to help, including failing to inform the emergency services.  In the video, one of them is heard saying "Ain't no one gonna rescue you."  Under US law there is no duty to rescue so the five teenagers had no charges brought against them.

So even where similar laws exists, they may be exercised differently across each country. 


A Duty to Rescue

Some civil law systems, which are common in Continental Europe, Latin America and much of Africa, impose a far more extensive duty to rescue. The duty is usually limited to doing what is “reasonable”.  In particular, a helper must not endanger their own life or that of others but should, at the least, include alerting the emergency services.  These countries include:

  • Albania
  • Andorra
  • Argentina
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Brazil
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Russia
  • Serbia
  • Spain
  • Switzerland
  • Tunisia


Source:  Polizei Essen

Source:  Polizei Essen

Under German law, failure to respond to a medical emergency is punishable by a fine or up to a year in jail.  People are required at least to alert emergency services, if they lack first aid skills.  

In September 2017, four citizens in Essen were fined after walking past an unconscious 83 year old male found in the lobby of a bank and failing to alert the emergency services.   Believed to be homeless, the four individuals dismissed the mans plight, who later died in hospital.  They were separately fined between €2,400 and €3,600 each


Who is liable?

In the UK we are not liable for the casualty unless we are the cause of the casualty's injuries or we fall below our expected duty of care.

In some countries, those who assist a casualty may become responsible for that casualty.   In 2011 a CCTV emerged of a two-year-old girl, Wang Yue, who was struck by a vehicle in the city of Foshan, Guangdong Province.  18 people ignored her before one person stopped to help.

The reason individuals were not willing to help was fear of liability, following the 2007 case of Xu Shoulan v. Peng Yu;  After Xu Shoulan had fallen and broken her femur. Peng Yu assisted Xu Shoulan and brought her to a local hospital.  Xu Shoulan accused Peng Yu of having caused her to fall, and demanded that he pay her medical expenses.  The court decided in favor of Xu and held Peng liable for damages, reasoning that despite the lack of concrete evidence, "no one would in good conscience help someone unless they felt guilty". 


Fraudulent Insurance Claims
In low income countries without free healthcare, such as China, Africa and India - foreigners can be seen as a easy route to compensation.  

In such environments it might be wise to exercise caution when offering help.  



Whilst some countries have explicit laws enforcing a duty to respond while other do not, they at least have laws which are exercised.

The most lawless countries in the world.  Source:

The most lawless countries in the world.  Source:

When traveling in some countries know to operate lawlessly or where corruption is overt, our advice would be to limit your liability whilst satisfying your legal obligations by simply contacting the emergency services if no one else has done so.   The first rule of First Aid is always to protect oneself from danger and that danger can include the law and lawlessness when we travel abroad.

Further Reading - Travel Vaccinations

Other sites - UK Foreign Office Travel Advice

Other sites - Intelligent Protection :: Country Briefings and Travel Risk Report


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