Germany convicts three for not helping an elderly man who collapsed

As the 83-year-old man lay unconscious in the entryway of a bank in western Germany, not one, not two, but three people stepped over him or walked around him to use the ATMs.

Now, a court has convicted the three of failing to help the man, who died a week after the incident.

The three were charged under Germany’s “good Samaritan” laws. The District Court of Essen-Borbeck said the three didn’t help the man “although they were obliged to do so.”

The incident took place last October in the foyer of a Deutsche Bank branch. Surveillance video presented in court showed the collapsed man and the three people paying no attention to him.

The defendants argued they thought the 83-year-old was a homeless man sleeping.

“Because the man was visible in immediate vicinity of the banking machines, there could be no reasonable doubt for the defendants this was a disaster that required assistance,” the court said in a statement.

The court, in its statement, didn’t name the victim or the defendants. The three have to pay fines ranging from $2,900 to $4,300.

“Duty to assist” statutes also exist in countries such as Denmark and France. The absence of such laws in many US states is due in part to the fact that courts have consistently ruled that a person is not bound by law to help someone else (even if one would think it falls under the law of common decency). Many states do, however, have laws that protect people who render aid from being charged if their actions unintentionally cause harm to the person they are trying to help.

One recent case that made headlines was in Florida, when a group of teens taunted a drowning man while filming his death from afar. They were not initially criminally charged, but police later recommended to the prosecutor that they be charged with failing to report a death.