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Is Rescue of Drowning Dog Covered Under NJ’s Common Law Rescue Doctrine?

Jun 22, 2022 | Written by: Jacob A. Papay, Jr., Esq. |

The New Jersey State Supreme Court recently revisited the Common Law Rescue Doctrine, which permits a rescuer injured during the rescue act to sue a rescued victim who partially or wholly caused the peril that invited the rescue, or to sue the person who imperiled the rescued person1.  In Ann Samolyk v. Dorothy Berthe, III (A-16-21) (085946), decided June 13, 2022, the plaintiff rescuer sued the defendant for injuries sustained during a water rescue of the defendant’s drowning dog, which fell or went into the water because of the defendant’s negligence.

The Supreme Court initially noted the laudable goal of the Rescue Doctrine to allow a rescuer, injured during an attempted rescue, to collect compensation from the person(s) partially or completely responsible for creating the peril that invited the rescue.  However, the Court noted the Rescue Doctrine was appropriate only in the case of a rescue to prevent injury or death to a person.  The doctrine does not apply to injuries sustained by a “rescuer” while acting to protect or prevent damage to an owner’s property, even where the owner partially or wholly created the risk of damage to his or her property.  Regardless of how much people love their pets, or consider their pets as members of their household, a person who rescues another’s pet cannot sue the pet owner or anyone else for injuries sustained while rescuing the pet.  This applies even if the rescue was invited because the pet owner or other person partially or completely imperiled the rescued pet.

Nonetheless, the Supreme Court extended the Rescue Doctrine to permit a “rescuer” to recover from a property owner for injuries sustained while attempting to recover the owner’s property so long as the attempt was to prevent the property from causing or inviting injury or death to another person(s).  For example, if the rescuer in Samolyk was injured while saving the defendant’s drowning dog to prevent onlooking children from jumping into the water to save the dog, then the rescuer could recover from the dog owner who partially or wholly allowed the dog to enter the water.  The Rescue Doctrine is applicable only if the rescue was to prevent harm or death to a person, regardless of whether the “rescue” was of a person or property. 

1Saltsman v. Corazo, 317 N.J. Super. 237, 248 (App. Div. 1998) (quoting Burns v. Mkt. Transition Facility, 281 N.J. Super. 304, 310 (App. Div. 1995)). See also Blackburn v. Broad St. Baptist Church, 305 N.J. Super. 541, 544-46 (App. Div. 1997); Tornatore v. Selective Ins. Co. of Am., 302 N.J. Super. 244, 252 (App. Div. 1997). 

Jacob Papay, Jr.


Jacob A. Papay, Jr. is a partner with Gebhardt & Kiefer, PC, and practices primarily in the areas of construction defect claims, construction injury claims,  first-party insurer claims, insurance coverage disputes, subrogation, provider health care law, commercial law, defense of professional negligence, and public entity general liability.  He represents numerous insurers, Third Party Administrators, medical groups, and businesses, and he has successfully defended public entity officials and employers in wrongful death, discrimination, excessive force and other civil rights claims.  In addition, Mr. Papay represents small businesses in mergers, acquisitions, trade secrets, employment and unfair trade practice claims. 

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Any statements made herein are solely for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon or construed as legal advice.