Chapter 4: Legal and Ethical Aspects of Search and Rescue




I. Resources

PowerPoint slides, Chapter 4


II. Teaching Points


  1. Scope of practice (p. 35)

1.      Services a SAR organization is able to provide

2.      Usually outlined by state law in the United States

3.  SAR personnel have a responsibility to provide proper and consistent care and services that fall within their authorized scope of practice.


  1. Standard of care (p. 35)

1.      All rescue personnel are required by law to act or behave toward others in a certain way regardless of the activity involved. 

2.      How one behaves or acts is called a standard of care.


  1. Duty to act (p. 36)

1.      An individual’s responsibility to provide care or services is called duty to act. 

2.      This responsibility may come from law or be secondary to the function being performed.


  1. Engendered reliance (p. 36)

1.      When SAR service “users” assume that a SAR provider will provide a certain level of service, it is called engendered reliance. 

2.      If a SAR organization fails to provide the service on which the user has become reliant, the organization may be held liable for the discrepancy.


  1. Negligence (p. 37)

1.      The failure to provide the same care someone with similar training and in a similar situation would provide

2.      A departure from the accepted standard of care that results in the noticeable harm of another


  1. Abandonment (p. 37)

1.      Unilateral termination of care without the patient’s consent and without making any provisions for continuing care


  1. Consent (p. 37)

1.      Permission to treat and/or transport

2.      Expressed¾When a person expressly authorizes another, usually verbally, to provide care or transportation. 

a.       This type of consent must be “informed.”  That is, the person granting permission must be made aware of the potential risks, benefits, and alternatives before giving his or her consent.

3.      Implied¾When a person is injured and unable to provide expressed consent, or if a life-threatening situation exists, the law assumes the person would grant permission for treatment and transportation. 

a.       In many cases, the law also allows a spouse or a close relative to give consent for individuals who are unable to do so themselves.


  1. Documentation (p. 38)

1.      A complete and accurate record of a SAR incident is an important safeguard against legal complications. 

2.      Incomplete, poorly written, or messy reports could be considered as evidence of incomplete or unprofessional care.


  1. Confidentiality (p. 39)

1.      Communications between a subject and his or her rescuers, especially if medical care has been rendered, are considered confidential and generally should not be disclosed without the expressed permission of the subject.

2.      SAR personnel must be careful about what they say during operations.


  1. Volunteer (p. 39)

1.      An individual performing services for a nonprofit organization or a governmental entity who does not receive compensation or any other thing of value in lieu of compensation in excess of $500 per year (other than reasonable reimbursement or allowance for expenses actually incurred).


  1. Trespassing (p. 41)

1.      The act of passing beyond a boundary onto one’s property (land) without the owner’s permission. 

2.      Before entering private property, it is always advisable to obtain permission from the property owner. 

3.      If permission is denied, entry should not be made, and the refusal must be documented and reported to the Incident Commander.