Cleveland State Law Review
In July 2017, a group of five Florida teenagers taunted a drowning disabled man while filming his death on a cell phone. In the video, the teenagers laughed and shouted harsh statements like "ain’t nobody finna to help you, you dumb bitch." At the moment the man’s head sank under the water for the very last time, one of the teenagers remarked: "Oh, he just died" before laughter ensued. None of the teenagers helped the man, nor did any of them report the drowning or his death to the authorities.
Because the Good Samaritan law in Florida, like in most states, does not require bystanders to assist another person who they know is in danger or is suffering serious physical harm, the teenagers who chose to film, rather than aid, the drowning disabled man are free of any liability. They face no penalties for their inaction and no punishment for their callousness.
This Article urges states to revisit traditional Good Samaritan laws. States need to consider penalizing a person’s failure to aid when another person is clearly in danger of physical harm or death. This need is particularly great given the power of social media and its intersection with a bystander’s ability and decision to help. As technology advances, relationships have become increasingly impersonal, thereby diminishing the individual’s connection to and compassion for others. Social media has added a new dimension to the longstanding debate of whether laws should impose on bystanders a duty to help. In cases where a bystander is observing a crime online, the individual can meet the duty quite simply by alerting authorities to the crime or danger. And in cases where the circumstances might tempt a bystander to use social media rather than provide help, the legal duty will compel the more moral choice. Accordingly, states should adopt duty to aid statutes mandating that bystanders give aid or call for help when they can.
Montana, Patricia G., "Watch or Report? Livestream or Help? Good Samaritan Laws Revisited: The Need To Create a Duty to Report" (2018). Faculty Publications. 158.