Multiple Tortfeasors and Rescue Doctrine

Car A is stopped. Car B hits Car A. My client stops behind Car B to be a witness and see if she can help. As she starts to open her door she is hit from behind by Car D, which also knocks her into Car B. A> B> C> D< C< B. or something like that … D accepts liability and makes an offer. We send letter of rep and demand to B, who caused the beginning of the thing and created the original cause (not the condition) which led to second wreck. B of course denies claim. Other than concurrent cause instruction language, have you got any handy law on why original tortfeasor is or is not liable?

Answer: Sounds like what you are describing is the "rescue doctrine," as to which see: Day v. Waffle House, Inc., 1987 OK CIV APP 67, 743 P.2d 1111, 1113 : ¶5 "The law of this state also recognizes that one who rescues or attempts to rescue a person from a dangerous situation and incurs injury by virtue of the rescue or attempt, may recover from the party whose negligence caused the party or another to be in a dangerous situation. Fulton v. St. Louis-San Francisco Ry. Co., 675 F.2d 1130 (10th Cir.1982); Carter v. U.S., 248 F.Supp. 105 (E.D.Okl.1965); Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. Kennard, 199 Okl. 1, 181 P.2d 234 (1946); Merritt v. Okla. Nat. Gas Co., 196 Okl. 379, 165 P.2d 342 (1946). Under the "rescue doctrine," negligence as to the victim constitutes negligence as to the rescuer, and there exists an independent duty of care as between the negligent party and the rescuer:

"... [U]nder the 'rescue doctrine,' efforts to protect the personal safety of another have been held not to supercede the liability for the original negligence which has endangered it. Whether or not the rescuer is to be recognized as 'foreseeable,' it has been recognized since the early case of the crowd rushing to assist the descending balloonist that [a rescuer] is nothing abnormal. 'The risk of rescue if only it be not wanton, is born of the occasion. The emergency begets the man.' THERE IS THUS AN INDEPENDENT DUTY OF CARE OWED TO THE RESCUER HIMSELF, which arises even when the defendant endangers no one's safety but his own." Prosser, Handbook of the Law of Torts, § 44, p. 277, (1971 Ed.). (Emphasis added.)

The Honorable Justice Cardozo, on whose statement of the law the Oklahoma Supreme Court relied in Merritt v. Okla. Nat. Gas. Co., supra, established the rule thusly:

"Danger invites rescue. The cry of distress is the summons to relief. The law does not ignore these reactions of the mind in tracing conduct to its consequences. It recognizes them as normal. It places their effects within the range of the natural and probable. THE WRONG THAT IMPERILS LIFE IS A WRONG TO THE IMPERILED VICTIM; IT IS A WRONG ALSO TO HIS RESCUER." Wagner v. International Railway Co., 232 N.Y. 176, 133 N.E. 437 (1921), cited *1114 in Merritt v. Okla. Nat. Gas Co., supra, 165 P.2d 342, 343. (Emphasis added.)

Thus, in actions based on the rescue doctrine under Oklahoma law, an injured party may recover damages for injury sustained in a rescue or attempt from the original tortfeasor if it can be shown that it was the original tortfeasor's negligence that placed the rescued person in peril, and that the rescuer suffered injuries in the rescue or attempt. Carter v. U.S., supra; Fulton v. St. Louis-S.F. Ry. Co., supra; Merritt, supra."