Protecting First Responders from Abuse of the Firefighter’s Rule

Firefighters, EMTs, police officers and other first responders put their lives on the line to protect and serve the people.  First responders do assume a certain amount of risk by doing their jobs.  Because of this knowledge of the risks inherent in any first responder’s job, the “Firefighter’s Rule” comes into play, effectively asserting that first responders cannot file personal injury actions for injuries sustained while on the job, as such injuries were foreseeable.

In personal injury lawsuits, many defendants will assert that the Firefighter’s Rule prevents an injured first responder from recovering at all from injuries sustained through no fault of their own.  While there is a known risk to being a first responder, the Firefighter’s Rule does not prevent a first responder from bringing all personal injury actions.  There are exceptions to the rule that may apply in a particular personal injury case.  Such exceptions exist where a first responder is injured or harmed because of an unforeseen event that was not part of the risk a first responder assumed by becoming a first responder.

The Firefighter’s rule does serve a general purpose of preventing first responders from bringing personal injury actions that allege injuries caused by the particular conduct that first responders expose themselves to during the course of their jobs.  For example, a firefighter who suffers burns while attempting to put out a residential fire cannot file a personal injury action to recover for such burns, as the firefighter knew he or she may be burned by carrying out his or her duties.

Hubard v. Boelt – Revealing the Deficiencies in the Firefighter’s Rule

On the other hand, if a first responder, such as a police officer, suffers injuries while on the job that are not foreseeable within the risk that the police officer assumed by becoming a police officer, then that police officer may be able to recover for injuries suffered.  An example of this came in an important California case that paved the way for legislation to effectively identify the certain exceptions that exist to the Firefighter’s Rule.  In a 1982 case entitled Hubard v. Boelt, a police officer was injured while in pursuit of a vehicle traveling 100 miles per hour.  The suspect then struck a third car, causing an accident that resulted in injuries to the police officer.  The court determined that the police officer was simply out of luck because he assumed the risk that such an accident may occur during the course of his duties.

The California Legislature Takes Action to Establish Exceptions to the Firefighter’s Rule

The California legislature did not like the result of the court’s decision in Hubard and enacted laws to provide an exception to the Firefighter’s Rule so that police officers do have recourse if they are harmed because of a suspect’s independent negligent conduct that was not necessarily foreseeable.  An important new law established that any person, such as the suspect in the Hubard case, would be responsible for the results of his or her willful acts, as well as any injuries sustained by any party as a result of such willful conduct.  Applying this new statute to the Hubard case, the result may turn out different.  The suspect in Hubard would be held responsible for his actions in driving 100 miles per hour, and he would also be held responsible for any injuries that his conduct ultimately caused – such as the injuries sustained by the police officer.

The bottom line is that nobody should be in a position where they suffer injuries and have no recourse if the injuries could not have been foreseen.  A firefighter, police officer, EMT or other first responder cannot be prepared for everything that  may happen.  They cannot foresee every possible situation where they may be injured by another’s negligent conduct.  As such, it is crucial that any first responder pursuing a personal injury lawsuit be prepared for the defendant to invoke the Firefighter’s Rule.  The first responder’s attorney must then be prepared to fight back and demonstrate there is an exception to the Firefighter’s Rule that should be applied, allowing an injured first responder to recover for the injuries he or she suffered.

Fairfield Auto Accident and Personal Injury Lawyer

I’m Ed Smith, a Fairfield, California Personal Injury Lawyer. If you or a family member has been seriously hurt in any accident, please call me today at  (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly advice.

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