Can Firefighters Sue a Homeowner if They are Injured Fighting a Fire?

On May 31, five firefighters were injured after a home in White Plains, New York caught on fire. The two-story home, on Milford Drive, caught on fire at 3:47 A.M – the same time that their fire alarm system alerted emergency services. While the family fled the home safely, about 20 firefighters responded to the incident, which had started in the basement and spread to the first and second floor of the home by the time the firefighters had arrived. Unfortunately, one firefighter was inside of the building when the first floor (and consequently, the second floor) collapsed. The four firefighters that helped removed their immobilized co-firefighter were also injured in the fire. On whether anything suspicious could have caused the fire, Wilson Plains Fire Chief Richard Lyman said, “We don’t rule anything out” – adding that “[The house] is going to need quite a bit of renovation. It’s going to need quite a bit of work.”

Under New York Law, specifically General Municipal Law Sections 205-a, firefighters have some legal protection in the event that they may be injured while “on the job.” This is a rather distinct departure from traditional treatment of firefighters (and police officers, for that matter.) Formerly, firefighters were to have assumed the risks inherent in the performance of their duties – solely by choosing to take on that occupation. Therefore, under the old rules in New York – it would have been very difficult to petition the court for any compensation from damages suffered while in the performance of a firefighter’s duties.

Since 1996, however; the so-called “Firefighter’s Rule” has been somewhat weakened by the New York State Legislature. Now, a firefighter may sue private defendants, and private defendants only – meaning, basically, that a firefighter cannot sue his fire department (in a similar vein, a police officer cannot sue his police station.)

An injured firefighter now has two potential options to seek recovery for damages: First, the firefighter can sue under the General Municipal Law Section 205-a – which is an action for the violation of a statute, regulation or rule. Second, a firefighter may sue for common law negligence. An injured firefighter can even bring a negligence action against an individual if that person’s negligence caused the fire. The defendant (person that caused the fire) may not escape liability by arguing that the firefighter “assumed the risk” of his injury by signing for a job as a firefighter. In a practical sense, the only remnant of the so-called “firefighter’s rule” is its application in cases where a firefighter attempts to sue his or her own employer.

the Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan, PLLC stands ready to protect the rights of New York firefighters and police officers.  Call us to discuss any potential cases where you were injured on the job.


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