Untrue Viral Story Inspires PA Lawmaker to Introduce “Duty to Assist” Law

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Dec 10, 2021 | 0 Comments

It's been said a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on. Case in point: On October 13, 2021, a woman was raped over a 40-minute period on a sparsely populated, late-night commuter train near Philadelphia.

An official from the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority initially reported that passengers recorded the rape on their cell phones but failed to intervene or report it.

That story went viral. The community was outraged.

The Only Problem is …

The story was not true. A rape did happen, and a suspect is in custody. However, surveillance cameras showed that the few passengers who got on or off the train that night did not record the incident, much less intervene in it. In fact, they might not have even been aware of it. The incident is still under investigation.

With the exception of a parent's duty to protect a child, Pennsylvania law does not require citizen bystanders to a crime to intervene or report. Nor does it impose any form of penalty for failing to intervene or report.

That might change.

“Duty to Assist” Legislation Is Under Consideration

Although the viral story later proved to be untrue, State Senator Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny County) released a co-sponsorship memorandum asking senate colleagues to join him in introducing “duty to assist” legislation.

Brewster said a constituent informed him of a Minnesota “Good Samaritan” law that requires bystanders to provide “reasonable assistance” as long as the bystander can do so “without danger or peril to self or others.” The law further guarantees “general immunity from liability” for rendering good-faith assistance. At a minimum, the Minnesota law requires bystanders to report a crime or incident that exposes or causes “grave physical harm” to another person.

Brewster's memorandum said his proposed legislation would impose

“an affirmative duty on any person to provide reasonable assistance to another person who is subject to serious physical harm.” 

The memorandum further states, “This legislation will require, at a minimum, that a person contact emergency response personnel when they see another person who has suffered physical harm at the scene of an accident or a crime.”

As of November 8, 2021, Brewster had not introduced actual duty-to-assist legislation.

Civil Immunity for Good Faith Action

Pennsylvania does already provide “criminal victim aid Good Samaritan civil immunity” to anyone who provides, obtains, or attempts to assist a victim of criminal, personal injury. Of course, the law does not excuse acts of intentional harm, reckless conduct, or gross negligence.

Defense Against Criminal Liability

In many accidents, a person, business, or government is responsible for the mishap in whole or in part. The legal term is “joint and several liability.”

If Brewster's proposed legislation is enacted, failure to respond to the affirmative duty to assist might be charged as a misdemeanor offense. Furthermore, anyone accused of criminal negligence or intention to do harm in an accident will need aggressive legal representation. Experienced criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will fight to protect your rights. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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