Injuries to a woman who heroically jumped in a canal to save a neighbor’s dog were not considered viable as a cause of action under the state’s rescue doctrine. See Ann Samolyk v. Dorothy Berthe, III, No. A-16-21 (085946) (N.J. June 13, 2022). The State’s highest court declined to extend the rescue doctrine to those plaintiff’s injuries since the attempt was not undertaken to protect another human life. As the Court explained, if the Plaintiff had “jumped into the canal after defendant’s dog as a simultaneous reaction to seeing a child of tender years running after the animal and quickly approaching the dock . . . to protect the child from imminent danger by rescuing the dog that may have been a viable cause of action under the rescue doctrine.”
The Court, while recognizing the importance of the human-animal bond, still declined to extend the rescue doctrine under these facts. “Notwithstanding the strong emotional attachment people may have to dogs, cats, and other domesticated animals . . . sound public policy cannot sanction expanding the rescue doctrine to imbue property with the same status and dignity uniquely conferred upon a human life.”
In a historical review of the rescue doctrine, as applied in New Jersey, the Court acknowledged that the doctrine “has long been a part of our State’s social fabric.” (Citations excluded). The rescue doctrine in the State “provides a source of recovery to one who is injured while undertaking the rescue of another who has negligently placed himself in peril.” Ruiz v Mero, 189 N.J. 525, 528-529 (2007).
The Court declined the opportunity “to expand the scope of the rescue doctrine to include whose who voluntarily chose to expose themselves to significant danger in an effort to safeguard the property [including pets] of another.”
The Court expressed concern about extending the doctrine to a rescuer of property, which would prove untenable, stating,
“[w]e are convinced that any attempt to reform the application of the rescue doctrine to include the protection of property, whether animate or inanimate, realty or chattel, must emanate from our innate instinct to protect human life.”
None of which should diminish the heroic acts of one neighbor to save another’s pet from harm.