Advanced Search
MyIDEAS: Login

Salvors, Finders, Good Samaritans and Other Rescuers: An Economic Study of Law and Altruism


Author Info

  • William M. Landes
  • Richard A. Posner


This paper uses economic analysis to illuminate a variety of legal rules relating to rescue, a term we use broadly to describe any attempt to save a person or property from some peril. We first develop a model of a competitive market in rescues, as a benchmark for judging whether the legal rules of rescue can be viewed as attempts to simulate the operation of a competitive market in rescues. The model explicitly incorporates the possibility of rescues motivated by altruism. We then apply the model to a variety of legal settings in which rescue questions arise. We show that the well-developed body of rules governing rescue at sea (including the principles governing salvage awards and the rule of general average) are consistent with the economic model of professional (nonaltruistic) rescue and appropriate in the maritime setting. The rules of the common law governing rescues on land the physician who treats a passerby in distress) are also examined, and found to be in the main consistent with our economic model when altruism is taken into account, as are the differences between the maritime and common law rules. We then examine the choice between compensation and liability as methods of inducing rescue, and show that the common law's decision not to impose liability for failure to rescue (the "Good Samaritan" rule) may be consistent with efficiency because of the "tax" effects of such liability. We concluded that the array of legal rules and doctrines examined provide support for the hypothesis that the common law (including traditional maritime law) has been heavily influenced by a concern with achieving efficient allocation of resources.

Download Info

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.
File URL:
Download Restriction: no

Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 0227.

as in new window
Date of creation: Jan 1978
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Landes, William M. and Posner, Richard A. "Salvors, Finders, Good Samaritans, and Other Rescuers: An Economic Study of Law and Altruism." Journal of Legal Studies, (January 1978).
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:0227

Note: LE
Contact details of provider:
Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
Phone: 617-868-3900
Web page:
More information through EDIRC

Related research



No references listed on IDEAS
You can help add them by filling out this form.


Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.
as in new window

Cited by:
  1. Alain Marciano, 2010. "Calabresi, "law and economics" and the Coase theorem," ICER Working Papers 26-2010, ICER - International Centre for Economic Research.
  2. Hasen, Richard L., 1995. "The efficient duty to rescue," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(2), pages 141-150, June.
  3. Giuseppe Dari-Mattiacci, . "Negative Liability," American Law & Economics Association Annual Meetings 1030, American Law & Economics Association.
  4. Paul Hallwood & Thomas J. Miceli, 2004. "Salvaging Historic Shipwrecks," Working papers 2004-01, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics.
  5. Earl A. Thompson, 1982. "Underinvestment Traps and Potential Cooperation," UCLA Economics Working Papers 260, UCLA Department of Economics.
  6. Paul Hallwood & Thomas J. Miceli, 2004. "Murky Waters: The Law and Economics of Salvaging Historic Shipwrecks," Working papers 2004-40, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics.


This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.


Access and download statistics


When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:0227. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ().

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.