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Ask a Lawyer: Legal obligation to stop and render aid

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By Pierce Kelley

J. A. of Rosewood asks, “Say, I’ve got a question for you…I was driving home on State Road 24 the other night and I saw a vehicle with its lights on stopped by the side of the road. I didn’t think much of it but, as I passed by, I saw another car in the ditch with its lights flashing. I was already by both vehicles so I called 911 and told them about it. However, I got to thinking, later on, that maybe I had some sort of legal obligation to do more. Did I?

Dear J.A.;
You ask a very interesting question, and I must admit that I, too, was unsure of the answer before researching the issue and discussing it with Chief Virgil Sandlin of the Cedar Key Police Department. The answer is NO, you did not have a legal obligation to stop and render aid, since you were not a driver in an accident and were not, in any way, responsible for causing that vehicle to be in the ditch. Besides, another vehicle was there and you called 911. You did a commendable, and appropriate, thing.
However, it is important for you, and all readers, to know that if you were involved in an accident which caused either personal injury or property damage, you MUST stop and render aid or you could be charged with a crime and punished for failure to do so.  Florida Statute 316.027 provides as follows:
(1)(a)    The driver of any vehicle involved in a crash occurring on public or private property that results in injury of any person must immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the crash, or as close thereto as possible, and must remain at the scene until he or she has fulfilled the requirements of FS 316.062. (Provide information)
    The failure to do so is a third degree felony. Florida Statute 316.061 provides that a person involved in a crash that results in property damage only must also stop and provide information. Failure to do so is a first degree misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. Of course, the question can be asked, depending upon the circumstances and the extent of the collision, if any personal injury was involved or if it was, in fact and as a matter of law, only property damage, so the best advice is to stop and provide information to be safe.
In this day and age in which no one wants to get involved in anyone else’s business, especially in a personal injury situation, it is important to know the law. In the State of Florida the law that you should be aware is what is known as the GOOD SAMARITAN LAW.  It may be found at Florida Statute s 768.13 and it provides as follows, in pertinent part:
(2)(a)    “Any person…who gratuitously and in good faith renders emergency care or treatment …at the scene of an emergency…shall not be held liable for any civil damages as a result of such medical care or treatment…where the person acts as an ordinary reasonably prudent person would have acted under the same or similar circumstances.“
Now, that last phrase is something to pay attention to because the standard for ordinary negligence is just that…the failure to act as a reasonably careful person would act under like or similar circumstances. So, if a person renders aid gratuitously, in a situation where they are not required to do so, that person must be careful and if that person does something that is later found to be something a reasonably prudent person would not have done, then that person could find himself or herself in a lawsuit. See the case cited at 980 So. 2d 550 wherein a person at a gym was sued for failing to do the correct thing in an emergency situation when another patron suffered a stroke and died.
No one wants to be confronted with situations like that, but it is important to know the law if and when you find yourself in such a situation.
I hope I have satisfactorily answered your question, J.A., and by the way, what surprised me when writing this column was that the State of Florida has changed the law regarding property damage situations. The law used to be that the damage had to exceed $200. That has been eliminated. Now, you must remain at the scene and provide the information, no matter how minor the damage.

 Any readers with specific legal questions for this “Ask a Lawyer” column are invited to submit those questions to the Editor of this newspaper who will pass those questions along to me. If you need assistance with a family law matter, or a landlord-tenant matter, a consumer matter, a mortgage foreclosure or other such things, and you cannot afford an attorney, call the Legal Services office closest to you, which provides free legal assistance to qualified individuals, or call the Florida Bar Referral service at 1-800-342-8011.  

The foregoing was written by attorney Pierce Kelley, who is a member of the Florida Bar Association. The contents reflect his personal opinions and beliefs.