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Can a Good Samaritan sue a person they rescued?

David Kelley and Mark Kinkaid were driving in Marion County, Ohio, in March of 2009, when they saw a car bumper lying in the middle of the road. Gray smoke was wafting towards them. Something was terribly wrong. Kinkaid stopped the car, and two men jumped out, running towards the smoke. They jumped a fence, pushed aside brush, and slid down the embankment as they reached a flaming Hummer.

Kelley heard a woman screaming, “Help me! Help me!” The two men ignored the flames and smoke and forced their way into the vehicle, smashing out the window with a tire iron. The two men struggled eventually pulling out Theresa Tanner, saving her from a torturous death.

Kelley stayed behind to continue searching the SUV because he saw a child’s car seat in the back and worried that a child was still inside. Kelley claims that much of his body hair was burnt and his cell phone melted inside his pocket. Thankfully, there was no child in the back; 26 year-old Tanner was alone in the vehicle. That was over two years ago. Today, they are both suing Tanner claiming that the wreck was her fault, and they have suffered injuries as a result of rescuing her.

Both men filed a lawsuit in Marion County claiming damages of at least $25,000 each. “All I know is that I am not the same man I used to be,” said Kelley, a 39 year-old father of five. He went on to say that his lungs were badly damaged from the fire and heavy smoke he inhaled during the rescue.

Kelley also claims to have bad memories. “What I saw that day, that woman, it haunts me. The flames were so hot, when we got to her, her hair was melting to her head - melting. There is not a night that goes by that I don’t wake up in a sweat with that image in my mind.”

Luckily, Tanner survived the ordeal and was taken to Grant Medical Center where she spent several weeks in the intensive-care unit.

Stan Darling, a tort law and civil procedure professor at Capital University Law School says that rescuers turn around and sue the people they save more often than people think. “The precedent is clear: danger invites rescue…and if you’ve acted recklessly or negligently and someone gets hurt rescuing you, you could be in trouble.” Darling went on to explain a federal law known as the Rescue Doctrine. It basically says that if the people being rescued were negligent when they created their dangerous situation, there could be a valid claim to damages if the rescuers acted responsibly and were injured.

The State Highway Patrol indicated that Tanner told police that she had argued with someone on the day of the crash and that she wanted to end her life. She also stated that she does not remember anything after careening off the highway.

Kelley said that he knows that some people will think his lawsuit is trivial and malicious. He counters by saying that he was a self-employed contractor and has no insurance. His medical bills are extensive and his daily life is changed forever. He said that they filed the lawsuit only after they found out that the crash was a suicide attempt. In true hero fashion, Kelley said that one thing is certain, “If it happened all over again today, I would still stop and get the person out of the vehicle. A life’s a life, you know.”

Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer

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