AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Civil Liability
of Law Enforcement Agencies & Personnel


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Police Plaintiff: Firefighter's Rule

     The highest court in New York held that the "firefighter rule," which bars negligence recovery by firefighters and police officers for injuries that result from risks associated with their employment required dismissal of a lawsuit in which a police officer was injured by the negligent operation of a security device placed in the parking lot of police headquarters, a gate designed to thwart car bombs and similar attacks. In the event of a terrorist attack, the gate can be raised with enough force to lift a car off the ground. For some reason, this aspect of the gate activated when the plaintiff was arriving for his work shift, injuring him. "The cause of the injury to plaintiff here - a high security device protecting the police headquarters parking lot - was plainly a risk 'associated with the particular dangers inherent' in police work." Wadler v. City of N.Y., #24, 2010 N.Y. Lexis 30.
     While a city police officer was helping the county sheriff's department with a drug interdiction operation, he was attacked by a suspect's dog, suffering injuries. The officer pinned the dog to the ground and an investigator shot it, but a second shot hit not just the dog but also the officer's hand, almost amputating his right thumb. The officer and his wife sued the county and sheriff's investigators for negligence and under a state statute. An intermediate appeals court found that the city and county were clearly working together on the anti-drug operation, so that claims against the county and investigators were barred by the firefighters' rule. Connery v. County of Albany, #508265, 2010 N.Y. App. Div. Lexis 2634 (3rd Dept.).

     The firefighter's rule did not bar an injured sheriff's lawsuit against an independent contractor who built a house and deck. The sheriff's injuries occurred when the deck stairs collapsed as he was walking down then after being summoned to the house to investigate a sounding burglar alarm. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that extending the firefighter's rule to independent contractors would be improper, as their duties concerning construction had nothing to do with whether the sheriff's presence was required on the premises. Torchik v. Heskett, #2008-0534, 2009 Ohio Lexis 706.
     Deputy's lawsuit against homeowner and building contractor, seeking damages for injuries he suffered when a wooden deck collapsed while he was on the premises investigating a burglary was barred by the Fireman's Rule, which applied both to the owner of the premises, and to the contractor who had done work there. The deputy was trained, the court commented, to encounter hazards whether caused by a homeowner or someone else, and his injuries would be better compensated through workers' compensation rather than through a lawsuit for damages. Torchik v. Boyce, No. 06CA2921, 2008 Ohio App. Lexis 354 (4th Dist.).
     In a lawsuit against the City of New York by a police officer who tripped and fell on a stairway while engaged in responding to a domestic violence complaint at another officer's apartment, common law negligence claims were barred by the firefighter's rule. The officer could, however, pursue claims against the city under General Municipal Law Sec. 205-e based on purported violations of the City's obligation under its administrative code to maintain illumination in a building's exits and stairways. Sec. 205-e grants police officers the right to recover damages for personal injuries or death resulting from another personís negligence in failing to comply with statutory or regulatory requirements. The officer claimed that she could not be sure of the cause of her fall because of the lack of lights at the building on the stairway and rear exit. Foley v. City of New York, No. 1485, 2007 N.Y. App. Div. Lexis 9695 (A.D. 1st Dept.).
     A police officer who was attacked and suffered head and neck injuries when called to the scene of a fight at a bar and restaurant can sue the business owners for alleged negligent failure to provide adequate security there in violation of a municipal ordinance. The New Jersey Supreme Court held that a 1993 statue passed by the state legislature had abolished the "firefighters' rule" which previously provided that firefighters and police officers should not recover for injuries which were the result of the dangers they were employed to respond to. Harry Ruiz v. Angel Mero, No. A-28/29-06, 189 N.J. 525; 917 A.2d 239 (2007).
          Police officer's claim for damages suffered while helping a fire protection systems company employee lift a heavy steel grill inside a restaurant was not barred, under Georgia state law, by the fireman's rule. The employee was also a fire marshal, and the officer was summoned to the restaurant to render assistance to him. The court held that the officer's assistance in picking up the grill was unrelated to the reason for his dispatch to the premises, and therefore was outside of the scope of the fireman's rule. Lewis v. Champion, 621 S.E.2d 481 (Ga. App. 2005). [N/R]
     Police officer's dramshop claim against a bar owner for injuries he suffered while attempting to arrest a patron who had allegedly become intoxicated at the bar was not barred, under Michigan law, by the firefighters' rule, as the claim was expressly provided by a state statute. Tull v. WTF, Inc., No. 252683, 706 N.W.2d 439 (Mich. App. 2005). [N/R]
     Police officer could not collect damages from property owner for injuries she suffered when she was struck by a falling scaffolding around its theater building after being called to the scene because of the falling scaffolding. The fire fighters' rule barred such liability under Illinois law. The company which leased the scaffolding to the property owner, however, was not entitled to such immunity when it failed to show it was actively engaged in any work on the property. Jackson v. Urban Investment Property Services, 2005 Ill. App. Lexis 1154 (Ill. App. 1st Dist. 2005). [2006 LR Feb]
     Fireman's Rule barred police officers' claims against chemical company for injuries they suffered when summoned to facility after a malfunction caused toxic fumes to escape. A New Jersey state statute which modified the rule did not reject all aspects of the rule, but rather only protected firefighters and police officers injured as a result of negligent acts or conduct which are unrelated to the act which occasioned their presence. Severns v. Concord Chemical Co., Inc., 861 A.2d 243 (N.J. Super. L. 2004). [N/R]
    A police officer's claim for personal injuries allegedly suffered while attempting to handcuff an arrestee who was swaying or staggering was barred by the professional rescuer's doctrine under Louisiana law. This doctrine states that a "professional rescuer" such as a police officer or firefighter who is injured in the performance of their duties assumes the risk of such injuries and cannot sue for damages. In this case, there was no claim that the arrestee was resisting arrest, and the officer was aware that the arrestee was drunk. The officer's injuries occurred when her knee struck the bumper of a car while she was trying to handcuff the arrestee. Gann v. Matthews, No. 2003 CA 0640, 873 So. 2d 701 (La. App. 1st Cir. 2004). [N/R]
     Public-safety officer's rule barred a Rhode Island police officer's lawsuit against a homeowner for damages he suffered while running down the steps on the property after completing his inspection of the residence in response to the home's security alarm. The type of injury suffered was a foreseeable consequence of the officer's performance of his duty on the property. The officer, in running down the steps, was also responding to another emergency--a collision he saw which had occurred outside of the homeowner's property. Walker v. Prignano, No. 2003-631-Appeal, 850 A.2d 954 (R.I. 2004 ). [N/R]
     Wisconsin Supreme Court declines to extend "firefighters' rule," barring landowners' liability for injuries firefighters suffer in coming onto their property to fight fires to injuries suffered by police officers in the course of performing their duties. Wisconsin police officer, therefore, was not barred from pursuing injuries claims against the owners of a loose dog which bit her. Cole v. Hubanks, No. 02-1416, 681 N.W.2d 147 (Wis. 2004). [2004 LR Aug]
     Firefighters' rule prevented officer from obtaining damages from building owner for a wrist injury he suffered while attempting to access the building to arrest a drug suspect. There was no evidence that the owner had negligently allowed criminal activity to take place in the building. Kivlehan v. 2220 Adams Place Realty Corp., 774 N.Y.S.2d 626 (Sup., Bronx County, 2003). [N/R]
     Animal control officer who slipped and fell on building owner's property when responding to a call to remove a stray cat could pursue a personal injury claim against the property owner. Rhode Island Supreme Court holds that "public safety officer's rule," which in other cases bars law enforcement officers from recovering damages on the basis of negligence for personal injuries arising out of the foreseeable risks of their duties, does not apply to animal control officers, who are "relatively undercompensated" when compared with police officers and firefighters. DeLaire v. Kaskel, No. 2002-477-Appeal, 842 A.2d 1052 (R.I. 2004). [N/R]
     Officer's claims for personal injuries she suffered while participating in a certified training course were barred, in California, under firefighter's rule and her assumption of the risk that she would be injured. Hamilton v. Martinelli & Assoc., #E031683, 110 Cal.App.4th 1012, 2 Cal.Rptr.3d 168, 2003 Cal. App. Lexis 1114 (4th App. Dist. 2003). [2004 LR May]
     "Firefighters' rule" in Connecticut did not apply to lawsuit by police officer against suspect he pursued onto third party's property for injuries suffered from a fall there. Jury award against suspect for $147,535 in damages upheld. Levandoski v. Cone, #16843, 841 A.2d 208 (Conn. 2004). [N/R]
     Firefighters' rule did not bar a police officers' negligence lawsuit against a truck driver for injuries suffered by the officer in a vehicle collision as he was driving to respond to a call reporting a domestic disturbance. The truck driver's alleged negligent driving was independent of the misconduct that resulted in the summoning of the officer. Terry v. Garcia, No. C040100, 134 Cal. Rptr. 2d 565 (Cal. App. 3d Dist. 2003). [N/R]
     Police officer's claim for damages against restaurant to which he was summoned to break up fight was barred by the firefighter's rule since the injury was inflicted as a result of the same negligent act that required the call for police assistance. Farmer v. B&G Food Enterprises, Inc., No. 2000-CA-00722-SCT, 818 So. 2d 1154 (Miss. 2002). [N/R]
     Claim against highway patrol officers for injuries that city police officers suffered in collision with their vehicle after they joined city officers' pursuit of a car was barred by the firefighters' rule under California law. Highway patrol officers were "jointly engaged" in the pursuit even though they were not summoned to do so and were not in radio contact with the city police department or its officers. McElroy v. State of California, No. G028063, 122 Cal. Rptr. 2d 612 (Cal. App. 4th Dist. 2002). [N/R]
     City could sue transit district in California to recover benefits paid to officer injured on the job when a railroad crossing arm broke and struck him on the head, and officer could pursue personal injury claims as well. Firefighter's rule did not bar recovery when statutory "independent cause" exception to the rule applied. Negligence which allegedly caused the officer's injury was not the same as the one that prompted the officer's presence at the scene in the first place. Vasquez v. North County Transit District, #01-55326, 01-55415, 292 F.3d 1049 (9th Cir. 2002) [2002 LR Sep]
     "Police Officer's Rule" barring negligence claims by police officers in the state for injuries in the course of tasks relating to risks that could be reasonably anticipated in the performance of an officer's duties barred officer's claim against a property owner for officer's slip on ice in the driveway while leaving the premises after questioning the owner about a report that his vehicle was involved in damage to mailboxes in the area. Krajewski v. Bourque, No. 2000-98-Appeal, 782 A.2d 650 (R.I. 2001). [N/R]
     340:56 Jury award of $17.9 million to family of New York officer accidentally shot by his partner set aside; New York's highest court holds that the requirements of a police department internal manual cannot be the basis for civil liability by the city since it does not establish clear legal duties and is not part of a "duly-enacted body of law or regulation." Galapo v. City of New York, No. 138, 744 N.E.2d 685 (N.Y. 2000).
     339:45 Fireman's rule did not bar Michigan police officer's lawsuit against bar which served liquor to underage man who subsequently assaulted him; jury awards $121,689.89 to the plaintiff officer and $25,000 to his wife. McCaw v. T & L Operations, Inc., 619 N.W.2d 420 (Mich. App. 2000).
     338:25 Police officer injured while trying to rescue fellow officers from a mob could sue an alleged member of the mob for negligence in creating the situation; Massachusetts appeals court rules that the firefighter's rule has "no continuing" application in the state. Hopkins v. Medeiros, #97-P-1369, 724 N.E.2d 336 (Mass. App. 2000).
     338:26 California police officer's lawsuit for injuries suffered when he was bitten by another officer's dog while engaged in apprehending a suspect was barred by "firefighter's rule" under state law. Farnam v. State of California, No. G021552, 101 Cal. Rptr. 2d 642 (Cal. App. 2000).
     330:92 Deputy sheriff in Maryland could proceed with lawsuit against apartment complex owners for injuries suffered as a result of his slip and fall on ice in the parking lot when going to apartment building to serve a subpoena on a tenant; "fireman's rule" did not bar suit and deputy was an "invitee" owed a duty of reasonable care. Rivas v. Oxon Hill Joint Venture, 744 A.2d 1076 (Md. App. 2000).
     [N/R] Fireman's rule barred liability of trucking company in Virginia for injuries suffered by police officer while making a traffic arrest of a company employee. Greene v. Consolidated Freightways Corp. of Del., 74 F.Supp. 2d 616 (E.D. Va. 1999).
     317:76 Officer shot by man receiving psychiatric treatment, who had expressed "homicidal feelings" about work supervisor to doctor, could not recover damages for psychiatrist's failure to notify law enforcement of patient's statements; officer's lawsuit was barred, in California, by firefighters' rule. Tilley v. Schulte, 82 Cal.Rptr.2d 497 (Cal. App. 1999).
     314:28 Police officer's claim that he suffered hearing loss when subjected to noise from 100 cannon shots during public festival was not barred by "fireman's rule"; hazard of suffering hearing loss from the noise was not a hazard "unique and peculiar" to the officer's job. Weiss v. City of New York, 669 N.Y.S.2d 33 (A.D. 1998).
     313:12 California Supreme Court overturns $440,000 judgment against state and highway patrolman for negligently injuring municipal police officer who was assisting patrolman in subduing suspect; legislature did not intend for statute creating exception to firefighters' rule to apply to fellow officers "jointly engaged in the discharge of their responsibilities." Calatayud v. State of California, 77 Cal.Rptr.2d 202 (Cal. 1998).
     301:12 Firefighter's rule applied to bar off-duty deputy's lawsuit against building owners for negligent security in building he lived in; deputy could not sue for injuries he suffered when attempting to subdue and arrest burglar in building garage. Hodges v. Yarian, 62 Cal.Rptr.2d 130 (Cal. App. 1997).
     {N/R} Firefighter's rule and assumption of risk barred officer's suit against motorist for injuries he suffered while on duty and on his way to work, caused by runaway tires that broke off of truck in front of him on highway Kelhi v. Fitzpatrick, 31 Cal.Rptr.2d 182 (Cal App. 1994).
     291:44 Officer's claim against pizzeria for injuries he suffered after slipping on restaurant floor while pursuing a suspect were barred, under New York law, by "firefighter's rule" barring negligence recovery for risks inherent in the profession of a police officer Collins v. A&R Pizzeria, 636 N.Y.S.2d 398 (A.D. 1996).
     296:123 New legislation in New York effectively overturns application of firefighter's rule to police officers; officer able to sue property owner for failing to clear sidewalk of snow and ice, resulting in officer's injury falling while chasing suspect; three other cases uphold right of officers to sue to recover damages for injuries resulting from negligence or violation of statutes or ordinances Sweeney v. City of New York, 652 N.Y.S.2d 928 (NY City Civ Ct 1996); DiFlorio v. Van Slyke, 651 N.Y.S.2d 777 (A.D. 1996); Sikes v. Reliance Federal Savings, 651 N.Y.S.2d 167 (A.D. 1996); Gibbons v. Ostrow, 651 N.Y.S.2d 168 (A.D. 1996).
     297:138 Iowa Supreme Court upholds $12,38666 award against restaurant to officer injured when he stepped into unguarded window well while investigating suspicious vehicle in dark alley behind restaurant; claim was not barred by "firefighter's rule," since the negligence which resulted in officer's injury was not the reason for his presence in the alley Paul v. Luigi's, Inc, 557 NW2d 895 (Iowa 1997).

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