Next time you hear a noise in the middle of the night, you might want to think twice before asking your partner to investigate.
That’s because a New Jersey Appellate Court recently ruled that asking for help in such a situation confers a “duty of care,” and if your friend/neighbor/spouse/random passerby is injured or killed while checking on that noise, the responsible party is… you.
This decision stems from a 2003 incident in Irvington, New Jersey. Jean Robert Vertus was wrapping up with a client in his financial services office in the city, when the pair heard something in the building. Vertus exited through a side door and went to a the home of a nearby friend, Cosme Novaly. The client, Naitil Des ir, did not.
In an apparent state of panic, Vertus told Novaly that “there was “something going on” in his building.
Instead of calling 9-1-1, Novaly decided to see what was going on at the building.
Minutes later, Vertus heard gunfire. He ran back to the building, where he found Novaly on the sidewalk bleeding to death. Des ir was also shot and killed.
Novaly’s estate later sued Vertus. They alleged that Vertus had a “reasonable duty of care” because he asked Novaly for “help in circumstances he knew or should have known would expose Novaly to risk of injury.” Essex County Superior Court Judge Michael Casale dismissed the family’s lawsuit on summary judgment, and they appealed.
The lawyer for the Novaly family said that Vertus should have taken steps to ensure Novaly’s safety. The appellate panel said that Vertus “knew or should have known” that Novaly could be exposed to danger, and had a duty to warn him.
So, before asking someone to walk you to your car, see who’s outside, or find out the source of a noise, remember to shout “Please note that you might be in danger if you come to my aid. You have been warned,” in order to shield yourself from liability.
“Help, I hear something,” just doesn’t cut it.
Case: Estate of Novaly v. Vertus.