Fromm Samolyk v. Berthadecided on Monday by the Supreme Court of New Jersey, in the opinion of Judge Jose Fuentes (provisionally appointed):
This appeal requires that court to determine whether to extend the doctrine of saving common law in order to allow the plaintiffs to recover damages for injuries sustained as a result of the defendants’ attempt to save the dog. Having reviewed the noble principles that underpin public policy at the heart of this cause of action, we refuse to believe that property, in any form, has an equal right to the unique value and protection we give to human life. .
This question stems from injuries sustained by plaintiff Anne Samolik in an attempt to save a dog [Beau, a seventy-nine-pound boxer,] owned by defendants Ilona and Robert DeStefanis. Anne’s husband, John Samolik, filed a civil lawsuit against the defendants as An ad litem’s guardian, claiming that the defendants were liable under the rescue doctrine by negligently allowing their dog to fall or jump into the canal bordering the their property, which made Anne dive into the water so that the dog would not drown …
The countries are neighbors of Forked River, an unincorporated community on the shores of Lacey Bay. Their homes are located on a canal. On the evening of July 13, 2017, the accused’s dog fell or jumped into the canal that winds around the back of this coastal community. Anne claims to have heard someone call for help to save their dog, which fell into the canal. A report by Lacey’s police officer described the incident as “a report of a dog swimming in a lagoon”. The report states that Anne “entered the lagoon to save the dog.” The dog was “taken out of the lagoon” without visible damage by the son of the accused and a family friend. Unfortunately, Anne was found “unconscious on a floating dock.” In response to the defendants’ interrogations, the plaintiffs claim that Anne suffered neurological and cognitive injuries as a result of the incident …
[In the words of then-N.Y.-Judge Benjamin Cardozo,]
Danger invites salvation. The cry of suffering is a call for relief. The law does not ignore these reactions of the mind, tracing behavior to its consequences. Recognizes them as normal. He puts their effects within the natural and probable. What is life-threatening is wrong for the endangered victim; this is also wrong for his savior. The state that leaves a hole in the bridge is responsible to the child who falls into the stream, but also to the parent who rushes to the rescue.
Initially, the origins of the rescue doctrine were limited to situations “involving three people, ie. one party, by its culpable act, has placed another person in a state of imminent danger, who invites a third person, the rescue plaintiff, to come to his aid. “… [But it has since] applies “in situations where the rescuer … judges the rescued victim, who is either fully or partially guilty of creating the danger that invited the rescue”. …
In this appeal, we are asked to extend the scope of the doctrine of salvation to include those who voluntarily choose to put themselves in considerable danger in an attempt to protect the property of another. We refuse to modify the doctrine of salvation to include such a wide-ranging deviation from [its] fundamental principles….
We recognize that the (second) review of torts extends the rescue doctrine to property and provides that
[i]t is not negligence which the claimant may endanger in an attempt to save himself or a third party, or the land or property of the plaintiff or a third partyof harm, unless the effort itself is unreasonable or the plaintiff acts unreasonably in the course of his action.
However, the second statement acknowledges that “the plaintiff may pose a greater risk to his personal safety in a reasonable effort to save the life of a third party than he could undertake to save the living or inanimate property of his neighbor or even himself. . “In addition, the recalculation (third) of tort: Liability for physical and emotional harm includes the expansion of property, noting:” This section also applies to the savior of endangered property, whether the property is owned by another or of the Savior. “
Most of our sister countries, which have expanded the rescue doctrine to include property, have done so in accordance with the Declaration …. [But o]other jurisdictions have refused to extend the rescue doctrine to include the protection of property. For example,… [one] the court explained this
[t]The political basis for the distinction between the treatment of human and human saviors seems to be “based on this high respect in which the law holds human life and body; whereas, in the case of property alone, a person may not voluntarily subject another to greater responsibility than he seeks to prevent. “
We are convinced that any attempt to reform the application of rescue doctrine to include the protection of property, whether living or inanimate, real estate or property, must stem from our innate instinct to protect human life. Regardless of the strong emotional attachment that people may have to dogs, cats and other pets, or the great importance that some may attach to family heritage or works of art that are generally considered indispensable parts of our cultural history, reasonable public policy cannot sanction the extension of the doctrine of salvation in order to give property the same status and dignity uniquely given to human life …
We are also aware, however, that some preventive actions that seem to be guided by the protection of property are inherently complementary to the protection of human life and can thus lead to action under rescue doctrine. For example, consider a neighbor who reports a fire in a nearby house to the appropriate authorities and then tries to put out the fire based on a reasonable, conscientious belief that children or other vulnerable residents may be in immediate danger or because it seems likely the fire could to spread to other inhabited properties. In these circumstances, if the fire was started by negligence, the neighbor may have a known basis to rely on the rescue doctrine to recover from injuries caused by preventive measures taken to limit the intensity of the fire, even if it is later established that there was no real risk to human life as the house was not inhabited.
Following this line of reasoning, the plaintiffs would have survived the summary judgment if she had jumped into the canal after the defendants’ dog in response to seeing a fragile child running after the animal and quickly approaching the edge of the dock. In this hypothetical situation, Anne’s actions to protect the child from imminent danger by rescuing the dog may have been reasonable and could therefore serve as a basis for a known reason for action under the rescue doctrine.
In contrast, the indisputable evidence here shows that Anne’s actions are based solely on her perception of the danger to the dog’s life. These nuanced distinctions are intended to recognize and confirm the public policy that underpins the doctrine of salvation in our country, namely the protection of human life. Thus, the plaintiffs’ complaint was rightly rejected, as Anne’s decision to jump into the canal to save the dog’s life did not give rise to a known claim under the rescue doctrine.