Law School Case Brief
Lacey v. United States - 98 F. Supp. 219 (D. Mass. 1951)
It is well settled common law that a mere bystander incurs no liability where he fails to take any action, however negligently or even intentionally, to rescue another in distress.
A pilot lost his life in Massachusetts Bay after his plane had fallen into the water. The administrator of the estate sought to recover against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act alleging negligent failure of the Coast Guard to rescue the pilot. The estate argued that the Coast Guard is charged by statute with the responsibility of saving lives at sea, and a civil tort liability for negligence is thereby created which would be otherwise non-existent. The government filed a motion to dismiss.
Can the Coast Guard be considered negligent for failure to rescue a life at sea?
The Court held that there is no liability on the part of the United States Coast Guard. It reiterated that it is well settled common law that a mere bystander incurs no liability where he fails to take any action, however negligently or even intentionally, to rescue another in distress. It held that the statute invoked a military discipline of rewards and punishments to promote the proper performance of their duties by Coast Guard personnel, but nowhere in the statute is there created a right to be rescued in the sense of an award of civil damages for the negligent failure of the Coast Guard to attempt to rescue a person in distress.
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