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Will the SARAH Bill Have Any Noticeable Legislative Effect?

By Head of Business and Specialised Litigation Services

The UK Government says the Social Responsibility, Action and Heroism (SARAH) Bill is supposed to provide reassurance that if something goes wrong when a person intervenes to help someone in an emergency, the courts will consider the circumstances of their actions in the event they are sued for negligence.

The Bill has been developed in response to concerns that people “acting for the benefit of society” may not want to take part in voluntary activities, help others or perform “heroic” deeds if they’re worried that a claim will be brought against them.

Although the Bill is only 13 lines long and barely amounts to 300 words, it has a wide scope of application and is not just about personal injury claims. In any negligence/ breach of statutory duty claim where the court has to determine the steps an alleged wrongdoer should have taken to meet a standard of care, the court will need to consider three factors:

1.  Social Action. The Court must consider whether the negligence/breach of duty occurred when the alleged wrongdoer was “acting for the benefit of society or any of its members”.

It’s not yet clear what that “benefit” might be nor what the relationship is between “the benefit of any members” and “social action”, whatever that heading actually means.

2.  Responsibility. The Court must consider whether the alleged wrongdoer, when carrying out the activity during which the negligence/breach of duty occurred, demonstrated a “predominantly responsible approach towards protecting the safety or other interests of others”.

The word “predominantly” was an amendment after the originally worded “generally responsible” was deemed too uncertain. What consequences could there be where predominance is displayed but recklessness intervenes at the critical point?

3.  Heroism: The Court must consider whether the negligence/breach of duty occurred when the alleged wrongdoer was acting heroically by “intervening in an emergency to assist an individual in danger and without regard to his own safety or other interests “.

That must mean dealing with something beyond the normal call of duty and so cannot refer to first aid volunteers or emergency services staff as saving people is the very job they are engaged to do. A cause of action against a member of the public would be pretty pointless.

It seems that the new legislation merely requires the Court to consider whether an alleged wrongdoer was doing something socially useful and whether they were usually risk conscious, but not do anything as a result.

Fraser Whitehead is Head of Specialist Litigation at Slater and Gordon Lawyers.

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