When a rescuer is injured during an attempted rescue of another person from peril, the rescuer may under certain circumstances sue either the rescued victim or a third-party whose act or omission created the situation that necessitated the rescue.
In these cases, the rescue attempt itself may not be viewed as evidence of the plaintiff’s fault. However, evidence of the rescuer’s fault may be considered by a jury if it is determined that the rescuer acted “unreasonably” during his or her rescue efforts. The classic formulation of the rationale behind this theory was set forth by Justice Cardozo in Wagner v. International Ry. Co., 232 N.Y. 176, 179-180, 133 N.E. 437 (N.Y. 1921):
Danger invites recuse. The cry of distress is the summons to relief. The law does not ignore these reactions of the mind in tracing conduct to its consequences. It recognizes them as normal. It places their efforts within the range of the natural and probable. The wrong that imperils life is a wrong to the imperiled victim; it is a wrong also to his rescuer. The state that leaves an opening in a bridge is liable to the child that falls into the stream, but liable also to the parent that plunges to its aid . . . The railroad company whose train approaches without signal is a wrongdoer toward the traveler surprised between the rails, but a wrongdoer also to the bystander who drags him from the path . . . The risk of rescue, if only it be not wanton, is born of the occasion. The emergency begets the man.