Monday, October 26, 2009

NIU Grad Expands the Rescue Doctrine

Melinda Rowe-Sullivan (NIU Law 2003) successfully argued a matter of first impression before the Illinois Appellate Court, Third District, concerning the rescue doctrine.

Melinda represented the plaintiffs in Strickland v. Kotecki, 03-07-0831 (July 15, 2009). The plaintiffs in that case were the sister-in-law and brother-in-law of an individual who attempted to commit suicide (Kevin). Kevin's wife discovered that he was missing from the house and, for reasons not disclosed in the opinion, feared that he was about to commit suicide. She called her sister and brother-in-law for help.

The three of them eventually located Kevin's vehicle in a fenced-in business property. Kevin was in the vehicle and there was a hose running from the exhaust pipe to the passenger window. The brother-in-law jumped over the fence to rescue Kevin, but he injured his foot in the process. The brother-in-law then sued Kevin under the rescue doctrine.

The rescue doctrine had previously applied only to situations where a third party negligently places another person in danger. If someone is injured while attempting to rescue the person from danger, the rescuer can sue the third party for his or her negligence. Illinois courts had not decided whether the rescue doctrine allows a rescuer to bring a negligence action directly against a person who places himself in danger. The trial court dismissed the plaintiffs' complaint based upon that distinction and they appealed.

As this was a matter of first impression in Illinois, the appellate court looked to the laws of other states. The court found that every other state that considered this issue had allowed a rescuer to recover from people who place themselves in danger. Like the other states, this court found no logical reason to distinguish situations situations where defendants place someone else in danger from situations where defendants place themselves in danger. For that reason, the trial court's dismissal was reversed.

Great job Melinda! Another victory for NIU!


Waseem A. Mateen said...

Great post and great information Mike! Congratulations on a job will done Melinda!

Cynthia said...

Very interesting post. Another great NIU Law accomplishment. Thanks for sharing, Mike!