State Supreme Court Holds Firefighter’s Rule Should Not Extend Beyond Premises Liability

A plaintiff, while working as a police officer, responded to a call at the home of the defendant. The call indicated that the defendant had locked himself inside the house and was threatening to hurt himself. After arriving at the home and making numerous requests of the defendant to enter, the plaintiff ultimately attempted to kick the door down and was seriously injured as a result. He alleged that his injuries were proximately caused by the defendant’s negligence. He did not make any allegations relating to conditions on the premises.

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The common-law firefighter’s rule provides that a firefighter or police officer who enters private property in the course of his employment duties generally cannot bring a civil action against the property owner for injuries sustained as a result of a defect in the premises. The plaintiff appealed from the trial court judgment in favor of the defendant. In granting the defendant’s motion to strike, the trial court concluded that the firefighter’s rule precluded the plaintiff’s sole claim, which was rooted in ordinary negligence. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Connecticut concluded that the firefighter’s rule should not extend beyond claims of premises liability. The court therefore reversed the trial court’s judgment in favor of the defendant and remanded the case to the trial court.

On appeal, the plaintiff asserted that the trial court incorrectly granted the motion to strike because his claim was not barred by the firefighter’s rule. Specifically, he claimed that the issue was controlled by the Connecticut Supreme Court’s decision in Levandoski v. Cone, in which the firefighter’s rule was limited to claims of premises liability.

In Levandoski, the Connecticut Supreme Court considered whether the firefighter’s rule should be extended beyond the scope of premises liability to bar a police officer from recovering from a defendant who does not control the premises. The Connecticut Supreme Court held that the firefighter’s rule should not extend to a non-premises liability case. In so holding, the court noted that since the firefighter’s rule is an exception to the general rule of tort liability, any loss should be endured by the negligent party. The burden of persuasion should rest with the party seeking to broaden the exception.

The Connecticut Supreme Court was persuaded by the plaintiff’s contention that his case was controlled by Levandoski. The defendant asserted that another, earlier case (Kaminski v. Fairfield) supported barring negligence claims against third parties by public safety officers. The state high court concluded the defendant’s argument was precluded by Levandoski, in which the court disagreed with the defendant’s argument that it should extend the firefighter’s rule beyond premises liability.

The Connecticut Supreme Court examined the policy considerations discussed in Levandoski and presented by the parties. The court noted that since the defendant was urging the court to expand a common-law rule based on public policy considerations, he bore the burden of persuasion that it should be extended.

The state high court concluded that the defendant did not persuade them that the firefighter’s rule should be expanded. Although the licensee-invitee distinctions that existed when the firefighter’s rule was first developed are no longer used by many jurisdictions, the other policy considerations are still valid. These include:  (1) to avoid placing too large a burden on owners to keep their premises safe from the unpredictable entrance of firefighters; (2) to spread the risk to the public through salary, workers’ compensation, and fringe benefits; (3) to encourage the public to seek professional help in emergency situations; and (4) to avoid additional litigation.

Since the plaintiff did not claim that his injuries were caused by a defect in the premises, the Connecticut Supreme Court concluded that the trial court improperly granted the defendant’s motion to strike.

If you or a loved one was harmed by another party’s negligence, you may need the assistance of a premises liability lawyer to seek compensation. At the Neumann Law Group, our Massachusetts attorneys provide trustworthy legal representation to victims all over the state. Contact us toll-free at 800-525-NEUMANN or use our online form to set up a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

State Appeals Court Upholds Ruling for Plaintiff Following Hospital Slip & Fall, Neumann Law Group, September 21, 2017.

Massachusetts Appeals Courts Holds Police Not Immunized for Canine Attack, Neumann Law Group, July 31, 2017.

Appeals Court Upholds Ruling for Defendant in Medical Malpractice Case, Neumann Law Group, June 21, 2017.

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