Monday, April 6, 2020

The October 2015 issue of Plaintiff, discussed how a plaintiff’s attorney can overcome the misapplication of the firefighters’ rule by the defense.

The Firefighters’ Rule, although named with reference to firefighters, covers police officers, emergency medical personnel, and public servants.  First responders assume the risk of injury associated with the dangers they are employed to confront. 

The Firefighters’ Rule limits the duty of care.  It is not a concept part of the assumption of risk defense.  The public servant is not able to sue the member of the public who called for the public servant’s services for the negligence that prompted the call.  The Firefighter’s Rule is based on a public policy to meet the public’s obligation to its public servants collectively through tax-supported compensation rather than individual tort recoveries. The costs of injuries to public servants are spread to the whole community, not an individual.  The public buys exoneration from the duty of care and should not have to pay twice, through taxation and through individual liability, for that service. (Neighbarger v. Irwin Indus., Inc. (1994) 8 Cal.4th 532, 542-543.)

Public employees receive salary, disability, and retirement benefits to compensate them for confronting the dangers inherent in their occupation. The public servants may not complain of the negligence that makes their employment necessary.

First responders do not assume the risk of someone’s tortious act unrelated to the hazard they have been employed to confront.  In 1982 the California Legislature enacted California Civil Code section 1714.9, codifying exceptions to the Firefighter’s Rule. (Stats.1982, ch. 258, § 1, p. 836.) Some of the exceptions to the Firefighters’ Rule under California law include: 

  • Subsequent torts committed after a first responder’s presence
  • Intentional acts
  • Violation of statute independent of an incident that necessitates first responder’s presence
  • Arson
  • Independent negligent act that did not necessitate the first responder’s presence
  • Risks not inherent to the particular employment task or emergency situation

Read the Article Here