Tort Law

Did Superman have a legal duty to save lives?


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Man of Steel spoilers follow: As most readers probably remember from law school, there’s generally no duty to rescue unless a special relationship applies or the Good Samaritan has voluntarily assumed the duty.

But that legal rule can create discomfort, as the Superman movie Man of Steel illustrates, attorney and author James Daily writes in a post on Wired’s Underwire blog.

Should Superman have allowed his father to be killed in a tornado? It seems that the law permits this, although state statutes do apply somewhat different standards. But is the libertarian principle that individual freedom prevails over societal responsibilities really the rule that we—and the moviemakers—want to apply, wonders Daily, who blogs at Law and the Multiverse and is co-author of The Law and Superheroes.

A key point is that Clark Kent, aka Superman, was urged by his dad, Jonathan Kent, not to save him, Daily says.

“If the victim doesn’t want to be rescued (“no heroic measures”), does that relieve the rescuer of their duty? I believe so. The duty to rescue has been described as a duty of reasonable care, and if the victim doesn’t want the rescuer’s care, then continuing the rescue would be unreasonable. Indeed, the lack of consent might even make it a battery.”

See also:

Modern Law Library: “Is Batman a State Actor? ‘Law of Superheroes’ Authors Dish on Comics in the Courtroom”

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