Editor’s Note: This is another guest post by Tom Haluszczak. Tom is a lawyer. In this post, he shares with us what could possibly happen if society breaks down, things get bad, but then eventually come back. Will there be a legal system in place? And if there is a working legal system, will our litigous happy society pick up where they left off? You can sue anyone for anything. Will that continue after a collapse?
As you read, remember each state has variations of laws. On top of everything that preppers consider, this might be something you and your group should spend a little time talking about. It shouldn’t keep you from doing the right thing, just doing it right.
One of my favorite scripture verses is Luke 10:25 (KJV) – The Good Samaritan.
A man goes down to Jericho and on the way is attacked by highwaymen. He is left barely alive, his bleeding body crumbled on the side of the road. A Priest passes him by. This is significant – because a Priest was a “man of the law” (sometimes Priests were even referred to as “Lawyers”, who merited the “woe unto you, Lawyers” comment from Jesus because they “laden people with burdens grievous to be borne”). This Priest knew God’s word – and yet turned his back on the injured man.
Similarly, a Levite – the traditional class of Priests in ancient Hebrew society (Moses’ brother Aaron was a Levite) also presumably knowledgeable in the “Law” of God – likewise saw the injured man and turned away from him.
But a Samaritan – a lower class of people generally scorned in the Old Testament – took pity on the broken man. He bound his wounds, took him to an Inn and left money with the innkeeper for food and care.
Jesus asks us: who was righteous in the eyes of God?
Preppers are hearty types who revel in their independence and resourcefulness. They vow to be ready when “the” event strikes – war, climate change, economic collapse.
But what happens if the breakdown is temporary – of an enduring, albeit limited duration – and “society” returns? The norms, rules and laws that apply now will be reinstituted. The period of travail through which Preppers struggled and weathered because of their pluck and foresight will be history.
What happens when an overbearing, law-obsessed society returns with a vengeance?
I can imagine a sick, starving man showing up at a Prepper’s doorstep after days of eating rats, begging for food. The Prepper generously shares with him home-canned meat and other home preserved items. After the danger passes – and “society” returns – the Prepper get served with legal papers. The beggar now asserts that the home-canned victuals gave him botulism and he is paralyzed because of nerve damage. He sues the kind Prepper in civil court for money damages. He may win.
Most of the United States legal system grows out of the British Common Law. Even Louisiana law – based on the Code Napoleon’ and Justinian’s Code (of Rome) – is heavily influenced by Common Law precedents recognized throughout the United States.
At Common Law, a man generally had no duty to rescue a stranger from a dangerous condition. If he was walking down a country lane and saw someone drowning in a lake, he had no duty to reach for a rope lying next to the shoreline and throw it to the hapless victim. He could continue his walk with no liability whatsoever for what was surely going to happen – the stranger’s death by drowning. Of course, if the drowning man was his son or brother, Common Law would impose a duty to at least attempt rescue. Absent a familial or other relationship, however, the pedestrian did not have to get involved. If the pedestrian was not a “Peace Officer” or other duly constituted authority he had no duty to come to the drowning strangers’ aid.
What if the pedestrian threw the drowning man the rope anyway?
The law is simple: If you do something – you’d better do it right.
Consider this outcome: the drowning man catches the rope and the pedestrian pulls him towards shore. As the drowning man is being dragged back, however, he is buffeted by currents and gouges his eyes out on sharp rocks. He reaches the shoreline bleeding out of both eye sockets and from that moment forward is blind as a bat.
Is the pedestrian responsible? Yes. Is the pedestrian liable (ie. subject to pay money damages for the consequences of his alleged negligent conduct)? Definitely. Check your local laws – but the Common Law standard probably applies. “Good Samaritan” Laws passed in many states usually only relieve Doctors, Emergency Personnel, Fireman and Police from liability when they arrive on an accident scene.
I’ve reviewed the Good Samaritan statutes of each state: the vast majority award immunity from civil prosecution for money damages to medically-trained first responders rendering aid to victims at the scene of an accident. The statutes speak in terms of victims “injured” as result of some specific natural or accidental event. Even the broadest statutes only protect untrained persons who render emergency care at medical emergencies in a prudent way.
Good Samaritan statutes are primarily drafted to protect trained medical responders at scenes of accidents – not good-hearted Preppers struggling through SHTF breakdowns of society wherein the social and governmental infrastructure have been shredded to pieces. These statutes do not change the basic Common Law premise that a man is under no duty to render aid to anyone – unless he enjoys some official capacity or is some relation to the victim.
If you – a layperson – touch an injured man on the side of the road, in most states you are not entitled to the protection of a Good Samaritan law unless you are a licensed first responder. At best, you might be able to make an argument at trial (when you are sued for causing or aggravating personal injuries or sexual assault) that a Good Samaritan analysis should apply to your case because you acted in good faith and you are a nice guy. Good luck with that. These statutes generally protect only first responders and medical personnel – not laypersons. You don’t want to be defending bogus lawsuits for money damages in any court where Good Samaritan immunity doesn’t clearly apply. Regardless how “unique” you think your particular circumstances are, a court might not agree with you. You’re at their mercy.
Your interpretation of what constitutes a “Good Samaritan” is irrelevant as a legal matter.
“Good Samaritan” is defined by statute – not common parlance or your personal zeitgeist. A “Nice Guy” defense is no defense at all. A good lawyer will chew you up. The following LINK will take you to a website wherein Good Samaritan statutes throughout the USA are summarized.
Whatever you do – do it right. That’s a tough standard. When society comes rip-roaring back and government – goons start poking their noses into what went on during the great unpleasantness that was yesterday’s anarchy, you’d better have a way to cover your behind.
A few suggestions:
- Help those in your community who you know and trust;
- If someone is in extremis, of course follow God’s laws and get him or her out of harm’s way. You have to live with yourself. Get witnesses that can testify to your good works at the moment in case something goes wrong. If the victim dies, you’ll need some backup to show that you did everything you could. Hopefully, a civil or criminal Jury will believe your witnesses and understand the predicament you were in. Greedy lawyers may try to sue – but honest witnesses generally trump such treachery.
- Temper your religious and ethical imperatives with the rule of reason. In times of chaos and total breakdown of law and order, survival of you and yours will be the priority. You won’t be able to save everybody – especially those who are intent on doing you harm. You’re going to have to make hard choices: to carefully pick and choose who gets your help and who doesn’t. God’s grace is the only tool you may have. Prayer and a stout heart will be needed.
- Convene a meeting of your “group” to weigh-in on decisions that may come back to haunt you in “better” times. Keep minutes so you know who said what to whom and what the outcome was. Juries tend to regard spontaneous records of events as persuasive evidence. If your object is to show that a careful, deliberative process was employed – free of arbitrariness, passion or prejudice – records involving decisions about allocation of resources and medical supplies or treatment may be critical in establishing a defense at a later time that you acted reasonably under the circumstances.
- Keep a log of who you helped, what you did (share food, medicine, etc.) and the outcome. Include their name, condition and type of aid requested. Document the would-be recipient’s physical symptoms and visual indicators of illness, mental and otherwise. Note any dissenting votes. Have other members of your community sign the log in case you need their back-up testimony. A “community diary” or journal of this type can come in handy if questions are asked later on.
- If you have a lawyer in your group, have him or her prepare a general Release form and make strangers seeking aid sign it. While the other party may scream “duress!” later on – it can’t hurt to have something on hand that documented everybody was making decisions with their eyes wide open.
In conclusion, when the lights come back on and “civilization” (such as we know it) returns, vultures are going to circle with a vengeance. Members of my much-deservedly maligned profession will beat the bushes searching for ways to sue and make money.
Even in times of breakdown, good common sense and an eye towards defending one’s self against possible legal action is always a good idea. Remember – the only organisms that survive nuclear fallout are cockroaches. And, truth be told, a goodly number of lawyers (and other professionals) I’ve done battle with throughout my career are undeniably offspring of that gene pool.
Tom Haluszczak Jr.
Vlchek1 [at] gmail [dot] com
Tom is a native of New Jersey and the author of American Jihad, a fictional novel, but all to real, of collapse.
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