Posts Tagged ‘firefighters rule’

December 10 roundup

By reader acclaim: “Cop sues family after saving baby”

“A police officer has sued the family of a 1-year-old boy who nearly drowned because she slipped and injured a knee responding to their 9-1-1 rescue call.” Andrea Eichhorn, a police sergeant in Casselberry, Florida, responded to the pool accident, and now “claims the boy’s family left a puddle of water on the floor, causing her fall during the rescue efforts. She broke her knee and missed two months of work.” So she’s suing the Cosmillo family. “It’s a situation where the Cosmillos have caused these problems, brought them on themselves, then tried to play the victim,” says her attorney, David Heil. Joey Cosmillo, the infant in question, suffered severe brain damage and lives in a nursing home now. (Rene Stutzman, “Cop who fell on the job sues family of baby who almost drowned”, Orlando Sentinel, Oct. 10; AP/Florida Today, Oct. 10)(slightly reworded to clarify sequence of events).

Plus: commentary on the above (Mike Thomas, “Hello, 911? Send a cop — who won’t sue”, Orlando Sentinel, Oct. 11). And update: cop decides to withdraw suit after public outcry.

To protect, serve, and litigate

In 2001, Harry Ruiz, a municipal police officer in New Jersey, was called to a disturbance at a local ballroom, which had been rented by a nearby sports bar to televise some World Cup matches. By the time he responded, the altercation had moved onto the street outside the building. When he responded, he was assaulted by one of the patrons, and he received head and neck injuries which left him permanently disabled.

This, obviously, was the fault of the bar, as well as the owner of the ballroom. The claim? They failed to provide adequate security. To recap: a trained police officer responds to reports of violence, gets injured, and sues the owner of the premises on the theory that they should have had security guards at the site to protect him from the people he had come to arrest!

Traditionally, the Firefighters Rule meant that police and firefighters were not allowed to sue for injuries they incurred while doing their job, in part based on the theory that this was the risk they were paid to take. But this week, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that Ruiz could proceed with his lawsuit. Although the state Supreme Court here is generally considered the most activist in the country, it’s the state legislature at fault in this case. The court was simply straightforwardly interpreting the words of the 1994 statute which abolished the Firefighters Rule in New Jersey; a copy of the court opinion is here.

So, be careful when you call the police or fire department for help; you might find yourself being sued by the people who were supposed to be assisting you.

Walter previously covered an even more outrageous case involving this law: Nov. 2006.

To protect, and serve, and sue

The traditional “firefighter’s rule” holds “that firefighters, police and rescue personnel accept an inherent risk of injury or even death in their jobs and generally cannot sue those they’re hired to protect. Their recourse is worker’s compensation claims, according to the rule. But lobbying by powerful unions and court decisions have led some states to limit the rule’s scope or rescind it altogether.” I’m quoted in the article criticizing recent moves away from the rule. “New Jersey is one of 11 states that allow police officers, firefighters and rescue personnel to file civil lawsuits when they’re injured through the negligence of individuals or entities.” (Tim Zatzariny Jr., “Police officers sue over injuries on job”, Camden (N.J.) Courier-Post, Aug. 30). For more, see Sept. 30, 2003; Apr. 1 and Jul. 16, 2004.

“Police can sue citizens for damages”

Since Florida’s repeal in 1990 of a little-known doctrine in state law known as the “fireman’s rule”, police officers and firefighters injured while responding to calls have been free to sue private parties for damages. “In the past month, a Jupiter motorcycle officer and a Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy have sued people who called for help. In both cases, the officers blamed their injuries on the negligence of people they were dispatched to protect. Earlier this year, officers in Sunrise and Plantation filed similar suits after suffering serious injuries.” Although the fireman’s rule still exists in most states, it’s “being slowly eradicated state-by-state” according to one observer; in Florida, lobbying by a police union helped ensure its demise. And although the Florida police union claims it only wanted to open the gates for suits over gross negligence and the like, suits have become a growth area and often name deep-pocket bystanders. (Bill Douthat, Palm Beach Post, Sept. 30).