Letter: Some duty to rescue exists in Maryland

The last article in the excellent series on the death of Amy Metz had a major error in its A1 headline. It is not true that there is no duty to rescue in Maryland. The Times' publication of that error could put lives at risk.

There are at least three situations in Maryland common law (i.e., court decisions) where there is a duty to rescue:


1. where a person has started a rescue and abandoned it;

2. where there is a special relationship (such as parent-child or spouse-spouse or person in police custody); and/or

3. where a person created the emergency.

In this case, Michael Metz started a rescue but then abandoned his wife, without running to a nearby house to insist that people call 911. He had a special duty because it was his wife of 21 years.

The Times' report on this was wrong. It went into great detail on criminal investigation, possible criminal charges and possible statutory changes. But the huge piece said nothing about a civil (i.e., non-criminal) lawsuit.

Amy's family has good grounds to bring a civil wrongful death lawsuit against Michael based on his violation of the duty to rescue. Even if they did not win much in the way of money damages, a guilty verdict would give them some closure. I think they could win such a lawsuit, and I think they'd have little problem finding a trial lawyer to help them.

It doesn't matter that the sheriff's office and state's attorney didn't press a criminal indictment. As often said, a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich. There was no serious attempt here to indict for anything.

I state these opinions as a Maryland lawyer in good standing for more than 30 years who knows a lot about the duty to rescue from personal family history.

In the 1970s, my younger brother died from hanging while in police custody. He was discovered almost immediately by a former Army medic, but the police chief ordered no rescue until a photographer could arrive, dooming my brother. He was suspended from a belt tied to a bar just 36 inches high; even with "professional" hangings it takes minutes to die. The New Jersey Supreme Court held that police were liable for wrongful death because they violated their duty to rescue, which arose from the fact that they had placed my brother under their care.

Bruce A. Hake

Union Bridge