Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Humanitarian Doctrine Definition:

A principle of tort law which requires an individual to take every action at hand to avoid an accident where peril to another human being is otherwise imminent.

Related Terms: Principle of Humanity

In Winegardner, Justice Garfield of the Supreme Court of Iowa wrote:

"[T]he doctrine of last clear chance ... sometimes called the humanitarian doctrine proceeds along the theory that notwithstanding the negligence of an injured plaintiff, if defendant knows of the peril in which the plaintiff has placed himself, it is defendant's duty, after acquiring such knowledge, to avoid the one accident if that can be done by the exercise of ordinary care.

"For a breach of such duty which results in injury there may be recovery.

"The doctrine applies where a defendant is aware of plaintiff's perilous position in time to have avoided the accident but fails to do so.

"The doctrine refers to negligence after negligence....

"It is sufficient if peril was so imminent that to a person of ordinary prudence the infliction of injury would seem probable if proper effort were not made to avoid it."

In Ross v St. Louis Public Service, the Supreme Court of Missouri wrote:

"Under the humanitarian doctrine it is the defendant's duty to act on reasonable appearance of imminent peril and, if thereafter possible, call into action every means at hand to prevent the threatened injury."


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