The Good Samaritan Defence is an exception to liability for damages in personal injury or property damage cases. The Good Samaritan Defence, or the “duty to rescue” often arises in “rescue cases” where one individual is injured when rescuing another individual, where the rescuing individual injures the person he or she is trying to rescue, or the rescuing individual damages property in the course of a rescue.
Origin of the Good Samaritan Defence
The origin of the Good Samaritan Defence arose in an English case called Videan v British Transport Commission,  2 ALL ER 860, 2 QB 650. In that case, Lord Denning stated:
“It seems to me that if a person by his fault creates a situation of peril, he must answer for it to any person who attempts to rescue the person who is in danger. He owes a duty to such a person above all others. The rescuer may act instinctively out of humanity or deliberately out of courage. Whichever it is, so long as it is not wanton interference, if the rescuer is killed or injured in the attempt he can recover damages from the one whose fault has been the cause of it”.
This was then applied by the Supreme Court of Canada in Horsley v McLaren,  SCR 441, 22 DLR (3d) 545, where a passenger, Matthews, fell overboard as a result of the Defendant, MacLaren, drunkenly operating a boat cruiser. The Plaintiff, Horsley, jumped in to save Matthews but ultimately died. In that case, the SCC did not find that MacLaren owed a duty of care to Horsley because MacLaren made an error of judgment not negligence.
There is legislation in many provinces which apply to cases where the rescuer injures the person they are attempting to rescue. For example, Alberta’s Emergency Medical Aid Act, RSA 2000, c E-7, and British Columbia’s Good Samaritan Act, RSBC 1996, c 172, provide protection from liability to damages, with certain exceptions, to persons who render emergency medical services or aid to an ill, injured or unconscious person that results in further injuries or death to that injured person.
Good Samaritan Defence & Property Damage
The Good Samaritan Defence has also been applied, or attempted to be applied, as a defence where property damage has occurred from the rescue. The following case, Anderson v Zurich Insurance Co.,  OJ No. 5580, 111 ACWS (3d) 814, demonstrates the application of the Good Samaritan Defence in the insurance context, wherein the Anderson family used the defence to recover their losses from a motor vehicle accident.
The Anderson family commenced an action for damages arising out of a motor vehicle accident involving their son, Scott. Scott was driving the Anderson vehicle when he stopped at a set of train tracks. A pickup truck driven by Constantin Stirbu had stalled out in the middle of the tracks in front of Scott. Scott drove forward hitting Mr. Stirbu’s truck off of the tracks. However, Scott was unable to reverse the Anderson vehicle off of the tracks and it was damaged by the oncoming train.
Zurich Insurance refused to provide the Andersons with coverage for the accident on the basis that Scott was solely at fault for the accident. The Andersons argued at trial that the Good Samaritan Defence applied, and that Mr. Stirbu was entirely responsible for the collision since he created the situation which caused damage to the Anderson vehicle. The Court agreed with the Andersons and found that the situation of peril was created by Mr. Stirbu and that Scott reasonably believed that Mr. Stirbu was in danger. His actions were not a wanton interference nor were they unreasonable and as such Mr. Stribu was liable for the damages to the Anderson vehicle. Unfortunately, the Andersons were not found to be entitled to general damages or a right of recovery under their policy because there was no collision coverage under it.
While Anderson v Zurich Insurance Co. arises in the insurance context, the Good Samaritan Defence holds true in other contexts as well:
In Litzinger v Pashniak, 2006 BCPC 390 (CanLII), the cars driven by Mr. Litzinger and Mr. Pashniak almost collided. Soon after, Mr. Pashniak encountered Mr. Litzinger in a parking lot and admonished him outside his car. Mr. Pashniak then reached into Mr. Litzinger’s car and removed the keys from the ignition. This caused the car to slide backwards down an incline and it struck a rock which resulted in damage to the muffler and tail pipe. The question before the Court was whether Mr. Pashniak was liable for the damage.
Mr. Pashniak claimed that he was trying to protect others from Mr. Litzinger’s dangerous driving and as such was acting as a Good Samaritan. However, the Court found that Mr. Pashniak’s actions were motivated by anger rather than an intention to protect others on the road. The Court found that Mr. Litzinger’s erratic driving did not pose an immediate peril and that Mr. Pashniak’s actions were neither necessary nor reasonable. Thus, the Court found that the Good Samaritan defence did not apply.
These cases establish that the Good Samaritan Defence can be used in cases involving property damage when the following elements are found to exist:
1) There must be an element of immediate danger or peril;
2) The actions taken by the Good Samaritan must be necessary and not a wanton intervention; and,
3) The actions taken by the Good Samaritan must be reasonable and not grossly negligent.
All three elements must be met for the defence to be applicable. Only then will a Court find an exception to liability where property damage occurs from the actions of a Good Samaritan.