How Fireman's Rule Works
When someone is injured on a premises the duties they are owed depend on their classification at the time of the visit. This article outlines duties owed to public-safety officers, which is known as the common-law firefighter's rule, or "fireman's rule."
If you haven't read any of our other articles, the three categories of visitor are invitee, licensee, and trespasser. An invitee is on the premises for the mutual benefit of owner and invitee (tenant, customer, hired hand, etc.) A licensee is a visitor mainly for the benefit of the licensee (house guest, door-to-door salesperson, etc.) A trespasser is the most well-known of the three, and is someone who has not been invited to the property.
In which category of visitor do public-safety officers fall?
Since police officers, firefighters, etc. are not technically "invited" to the property it may seem to some that they would be considered trespassers. However, since they are responding to an emergency, they would normally be considered "licensees." As licensees, public-safety officers are owed duties all licensees are owed, but if they are injured in ways that don't pertain to responding to the emergency situation they would be considered invitees. This is what is known as the fireman's rule.
Implications of the Fireman's Rule
The purpose of the fireman's rule is to keep public safety officers from recovering damages for injuries that resulted from responding to an emergency, which are risks that the individuals were aware of when volunteering for or accepting an emergency response position. In Texas specifically, there are three main duties that a property owner owes to an emergency responder. These three duties, according to Texas Causes of Action Ch. 23-C are as follows:
- The property owner must "warn of known dangerous conditions that the public-safety officer is unaware of."
- The property owner must not "injure the officer willfully, wantonly, or by gross negligence."
- The property owner must not "injure the officer through active negligence after the officer arrives at the premises."
Here's an example of a premises situation in which a public safety officer could hold a property owner liable:
A police officer working for a public university responds to a call for two students in need of a late night escort to their vehicles. As she is heading to the library where the students are located, she walks through a construction area that has not been properly labeled or roped off. One of the scaffolds at the site has not been properly maintained, and is, in fact, rusted to a dangerous point of corrosion. Some of the workers left heavy beams on the scaffold, which collapsed near the officer, knocking her to the ground, and resulting in severe bruising and several broken bones.
Since the officer is responding to a call, she is considered a "licensee." However, the collapse of the construction site structure was not caused by anything that had to do with the emergency situation. The construction company that did not properly inspect the degree of corrosion on their scaffold would be responsible for the police officer's injuries. Because she had to pass through this area to respond to the emergency, and because her injuries were caused by someone else's negligence, she would be considered an "invitee" and would be able to sue for her pain, suffering, and lost wages.
Further Questions about the Fireman's Rule
If you or a family member is an emergency responder who was injured from a cause outside of the expected line of duty, it would be a good idea to contact an attorney to discuss the details of the accident. If it can be proved that the accident happened as a result of this particular dangerous situation, the victim should be compensated for their injuries. If you have questions about the Fireman's Rule that haven't been answered on this page, give Grossman Law a call at (855)326-0000. Our attorneys have a home base in Dallas, Texas, and are very experienced in premises liability claims. If you decide you would like to hire a lawyer, you never have to worry about payment until you win your case.