Update: N.M. pipeline rescuers can sue for emotional distress

Three years ago we prematurely reported that sanity had (as of that point) prevailed in the New Mexico case where firefighters and emergency medical personnel, otherwise uninjured, were seeking to sue El Paso Natural Gas over the emotional trauma of witnessing the disaster scene after a 2000 pipeline explosion. Earlier this month, however, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled the other way, poking a big hole in the “firefighters’ rule” which traditionally barred recovery by rescuers against those who cause accidents. Chief Justice Edward Chavez wrote that to throw out the emotional-distress suits would be to “reward reckless or intentional acts”. The suits now head to trial. (Stella Davis, “Responders can sue in pipeline explosion”, Carlsbad Current Argus, Dec. 5).


  • The alternative view is that to allow the suits to go forward would “reward reckless or intentional acts”…by the plaintiffs lawyers.

  • Good lord. Under the NMSC’s rationale, every emergency responder has a cause of action after every service call.

  • Mr. Neal,

    Perhaps they the NMSC is hoping to save the government money. With such a high likelihood of some major compensation flowing their way, it should not be difficult replace all paid emergency responders with volunteers. Much like contingency fee lawyers.

  • Silly me. I should have read the article. It seems that the reason this is being allowed is that “the injuries exceeded the normal scope of injuries inherent in the profession.”

    Are they saying that the Gas company could be liable because the Fire Fighters were not able to deal with seeing the carnage? Would having more cynical first responders have been better for the company? What control does the gas company have of the emotional composition and after-care of the ‘victims’?