Firefighters accept the dangers associated with their jobs by placing their bodies in the line of danger in order to save the lives of others. The word “heroic” and all its implications certainly apply (in most people’s minds) to the role of firefighters.
Occasionally firefighters become badly injured during the normal course of the performance of their duties. But does that mean that firefighters may not recover damages for personal injury received on the job?
In general, the “firefighter’s rule” bars “injured firefighters and police officers from recovering against individuals whose ordinary negligence created the situation that required the presence of the officer or firefighter” in the first place.
The Missouri Court of Appeals in the case Martin v. Survivair Respirators, Inc., 298 S.W.3d 23 (Mo. Ct. App. 2009) modified that general rule by stating that some risks go beyond the ordinary negligence and “range of ordinary risks” created by the emergency situation. In the Martin case, two firefighters were badly injured. One of the injured firefighters died from the failure of his gas mask to alert the other firefighters of his location, making his rescue from the burning building possible. Instead, the firefighter died of smoke inhalation. The family of the deceased firefighter, Mr. Martin, filed the wrongful death claim against Survivair Respirators, Inc., the air mask manufacturer. The defendants raised the affirmative defense of the firefighter’s rule, and lost.
Firefighters in St. Louis and in the surrounding area routinely face the same type of dangers faced by Mr. Martin on the day he died – danger of falling structures, burns and smoke inhalation. In St. Charles, for instance, a firefighter was badly injured in a recent apartment complex fire. Although there are no details in the news report regarding the cause of the firefighter’s injuries, there’s a good chance they were caused by the “range of ordinary risks” found in a firefight.
If you or your family member has been injured while in the course of duties performed as an EMT, fire fighter, or police officer speak to a personal injury attorney for more information on the firefighter’s rule and its exceptions.