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Home > Topics > EMS Advocacy
February 12, 2013

Judge: Responders had no legal duty to help drowning man

The judge found the officers and firefighters acted justly when they stood onshore as a suicidal man succumbed to hypothermia in the San Francisco Bay

By EMS1 Staff

ALAMEDA, Calif. — A judge ruled Monday that the responders who stood on shore as a man walked into the San Francisco Bay and died from hypothermia had no legal duty to help him.

The judge also found that by removing people from the beach or preventing people from aiding 52-year-old Raymond Zack did not "worsen" his case, according to the San Jose Mercury.

With his ruling, Judge George Hernandez effectively ended a lawsuit filed by Zack's family against the city of Alameda.

Responders and dozens of onlookers were reportedly at least 100 yards away from shore as Zack walked fully-clothed into the frigid waters.

Police said they did not go after Zack because he was possibly suicidal and violent and firefighters remained on shore because they were not certified in land-water rescue and had no boat that could be used in the shallow water.

The family argues, however, that the responders did not try to get a boat from the U.S. Coast Guard and believe that bystanders should have been able to help if they wanted.

"It was a very tragic situation," Gregory Fox, the city's attorney, told the Mercury. "But the court found that the officers acted reasonably and within the law."

The paper reports that responders were dispatched after Dolores Berry, who says she is Zack's foster mother, asked an onlooker to call 911, explaining Zack did not know how to swim and could be suicidal and may have suffered from mental illness.

An onlooker pulled Zack to shore later after he started floating facedown, but he was pronounced dead a short time after in the hospital.

"The court finds that under the circumstances presented, there was no moral blame attendant to the conduct of the responding officers and firefighters," Hernandez said in his ruling at the Hayward Hall of Justice.

Hernandez also added that firefighters and officers were right in not allowing people to enter the water, as they could have been harmed and injured as well.

Zack's family's attorney says he will ask Hernandez to reconsider the case and if he refuses, will appeal the decision.

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