Time to use your imagination! You're a world renowned physician who has literally and figuratively written the book on airway restrictions and the Heimlich maneuver. During your lunch break, you notice a diner at the table next to you choking on his meal. Do you have a duty to come to his rescue? Surprisingly, in Washington, the answer is no. And, if you do, make sure you do so there is no Personal Injury lawsuit that follows.
Regardless of the ease of the rescue and your own abilities, this arguably insensitive rule allows our doctor friend to go about his meal without helping. As with everything in the law, the exceptions are key. If you have a duty to help, then you can be held liable for abstaining. For example, if you're a life guard on duty and you see someone drowning, you have the obligation to attempt a rescue. Similarly, if you begin a rescue, you have a duty to continue the rescue.
The reasoning behind this is easy to understand. For example, if you're just a regular beach-goer and you start swimming out to a drowning stranger you need to attempt to finish the job. By starting the rescue, the beach-goer has impliedly halted others from attempting to aid the drowning individual. The law wants to prevent this chilling effect and has memorialized this dilemma.
In the vast majority of situations, you will not face civil liability for strolling by a distressed individual. On the contrary, your karma may take a hit. Personal Injury law can be confusing at times. If you have questions about your responsibilities feel free to call Magnuson Lowell.