• The "Firefighter's Rule" Protects Negligent Citizens
  • November 11, 2011 | Authors: Kristen K. Orr; John L. Tate
  • Law Firms: Stites & Harbison, PLLC - Lexington Office ; Stites & Harbison, PLLC - Louisville Office
  • On October 28, 2011, the Kentucky Court of Appeals reaffirmed legal protection for businesses and individuals sued for negligence by first responders  injured in the course of providing assistance.
     
    The so-called “Firefighter’s Rule”—which is not limited to firefighters—provides a complete defense to a person who negligently creates a condition that necessitates police officer or firefighter presence even though the condition also causes injury to those who respond.

    The rule is based on a public policy of encouraging citizens to call public protection agencies without fear of being held liable for injuries to public protection workers. 

    The rule is especially important for public establishments with a continuing responsibility to all guests and invitees.  In the event certain guests become unruly, for example, public policy encourages calling for police assistance to protect the safety of all guests.  Such was the case in Wallace v. Thoroughbred Hospitality LLC, No. 2010-CA-001289-MR.

    In Wallace, a hotel summoned police to confront and resolve disorderly conduct by intoxicated patrons of the hotel bar.  Two police officers were injured during the response, and they sued the hotel to recover damages.  Based on established case law, the hotel moved for summary judgment under the Firefighter’s Rule.  The trial court granted the motion, and the police officers appealed.  

    The Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal, holding that the elements of the Firefighter’s Rule were satisfied and that various exceptions to the rule were inapplicable.  The Court of Appeals explained that the police “were injured in the performance of their job as police officers, [and] these injuries are the result of risks intrinsic to the exercise of this police power.”  The Court reaffirmed the public policy behind the Firefighter’s Rule, stating “parties should not have to worry about liability when requesting help from public employees to perform their duties.”

    The Court of Appeals also addressed the officers’ challenges to the rule.  The police argued the Firefighter’s Rule was inapplicable because hotel personnel called the police more than once, to respond to different parts of the hotel, but arguably not to the place where injury occurred.  Rejecting their argument, the court commented that “arguments, fights, and public brawls often occur over a significant time period and at different places in a location.  But police officers are still mandated to respond to the disorder over this time period and at the various spots it is occurring.”