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Business Ethics Case Study

Question 1: Rescuers' Remorse

That David Kelley and Mark Kinkaid are in the process of suing Theresa Tanner, the woman they saved from a burning Hummer in 2009, seems to be a case of complex and unusually challenging ethical considerations.   The facts of the incident are not in dispute: the men saw the signs of the accident from the highway and, suffering intense physical harm in the attempt, extricated the woman they had heard screaming for help.   Since the rescue, Kelley avers that he has suffered permanent lung damage, and in their lawsuit both men significantly point to the fact that the accident was completely Tanner's own fault, if not intention.   Tanner herself had recounted that she “wanted to end her life” that day (Zachariah), and to the authorities. 

Ethically speaking, the lawsuit of Kelley and Kinkaid initially appears specious, if not outright unconscionable.   Assuming that the injuries they sustained were in fact  incurred by their actions in saving Tanner,  it is nonetheless disturbing that individuals motivated to immediately come to the aid of a person in dire peril would later seek recompense.   Such a reaction, no matter the provocation, eviscerates the very concept behind any “Good Samaritan's” actions; it most certainly undermines traditionally maintained viewpoints that  danger is an irrelevance to those who spontaneously undertake a rescue.   However, in fairness to the men, the elements of the damages suffered by them must be taken into account.   It is not unreasonable for men who have so risked their lives to demand compensation for crippling consequences.  Then, and more influentially, there is the ethically critical issue of Tanner's own culpability in the accident.   That she essentially, and partially intentionally, caused her own near-demise is an aspect to the case that requires deeper examination, if the ethical conduct of Kelley and Kinkaid is to be fairly assessed.  

Both of these considerations, however, actually obfuscate, rather than clarify, the ethics of this situation.   More precisely, the type of emergent circumstance as created by Tanner requires that the ethics involved be assessed as they applied to that very urgent space of time.   The overwhelming reality in this case, as in most such rescues, is that Kelley and Kinkaid chose to waive certain safeties as soon as they determined to come to Tanner's aid.   That they were motivated by an ethical impulse to save a woman screaming from a burning vehicle does not, unfortunately,  alter the case in this regard.   It would be an excellent thing if heroics came without risk, but heroics typically are generated by dangerous situations, and the ethical motivation to help must be seen as tacitly acknowledging any risk to self.   It is, consequently, unethical to seek redress for injuries sustained by such an action.

Regarding the aspect of Tanner's intent and/or negligence in causing the accident, much the same principle applies.   The noble act of immediate rescue may not be prompted or influenced in any way by cause;  to admit to such as an ethical variable translates to a host of potential causes as perhaps equally questionable, such as Tanner's having crashed while driving in an intoxicated state.   Such accidents are, in a sense, removed from ethics because of their immediacy, and this actually serves to clarify the ethics pertaining to them.   This is why the injuries of the men and Tanner's state of mind are ethically irrelevant.  No matter the repercussions or the precipitating factors, one reality remains as the ethical imperative: a woman trapped in a burning car required immediate help.   It is unfortunate, but Kelley and Kinkaid may not sue for financial redress, because they chose to obey an admittedly compelling ethical urging.