While the debut of the blue mannequin-like Fire Services Department mascot “Anyone” (“任何仁”), as well as the message it promotes (“Anyone can save lives in emergencies!”), has become massively popular in Hong Kong, it has also raised some concerns about whether those who attempt to follow this message may be held legally liable for doing so if something goes wrong with the rescue attempt.
Hong Kong follows the English common law position, which generally takes the view that an individual does not have any duty in law to rescue another person, unless a special relationship exists between the two. For example, a parent would have an obligation to attempt to rescue her young child in certain circumstances, because the law (as society at large would agree) holds that there is a special relationship between a parent and a child. But a passing stranger who is not related to the child would not be obliged in law to attempt to rescue the child, even if the rescue would well be within his ability. Once a stranger begins the rescue attempt, however, she will be said to have assumed a duty to take reasonable care in the rescue. Even so, it is likely that the courts in Hong Kong will follow the English common law and be generally cautious about holding a volunteer rescuer legally liable for negligence for her actions.
It should be noted, however, that Hong Kong does not have any Good Samaritan laws that offer some measure of statutory protection for volunteer rescuers. The term “Good Samaritan” originates from a parable in the Bible which encourages people to offer aid to others even if they are of conflicting backgrounds. Although the content of Good Samaritan laws varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, they possess the same general principle – protecting a volunteer rescuer from civil liability after providing emergency assistance to a victim in anguish.
Good Samaritan laws generally only provide limited immunity to volunteer rescuers, which means that they may still be held liable if it can be established that they acted in a manner considered unacceptable in that jurisdiction (for example where gross negligence or willful misconduct is involved). Exceptionally, mainland China offers extremely broad legal protection – article 184 of the General Provisions of the Civil Law provides that a person who voluntarily offers emergency assistance will never be civilly liable in any circumstance.
Should Hong Kong also enact a Good Samaritan law? Mixed opinions have emerged since the Fire Services mascot was introduced. Supporters of enacting such legislation have emphasized its benefits, such as reassurance for volunteer rescuers regarding legal risks, thereby facilitating more rescues and promoting a culture of helping others in the society. The Secretary for Food and Health has responded by promising to look further into the issue, although she has highlighted the need to first look into the first-aid capabilities of the public, for example.
The judicial policy bias in favor of volunteer rescuers suggests that a Good Samaritan law may not be necessary in Hong Kong, but should it be decided that legislation is the best way forward, deciding on the exact content of such legislation will be extremely important. Further research of how Good Samaritan laws have functioned in other jurisdictions, as well as extensive public consultation, would be a good place to start.
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