Exceptions to California's Firefighter's Rule
The firefighter's rule, however, is subject to a number of exceptions. "The rule does not apply to conduct other than that which necessitated the summoning of the firefighter or police officer, and it does not apply to independent acts of misconduct that are committed after the firefighter or police officer has arrived on the scene. " (Neighbarger v. Irwin Industries, Inc. (1994) 8 Cal.4th 532 at p. 538.)
Several cases illustrate these limitations on the firefighter's rule. In Lipson v. Superior Court (1982) 31 Cal.3d 362, the defendants misrepresented that a chemical boilover to which firefighters responded did not involve toxic chemicals. Since the misrepresentation was an act of misconduct independent from any act that caused the chemical boilover, the firefighter's rule did not apply. ( Id. at pp. 369-373.)
In Kocan v. Garino (1980) 107 Cal. App. 3d 291, a dilapidated fence gave way, injuring a police officer in hot pursuit of a suspect. This negligence was not within the ambit of the firefighter's rule. ( Id. at pp. 292, 294-295.)
A firefighter slipped on wet, slick stairs during a unannounced fire safety inspection in Donohue v. San Francisco Housing Authority (1993) 16 Cal.App.4th 658, 660.
Upon reconsideration after Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th 296, the court held the firefighter's rule did not bar the negligence action because the alleged negligence was not the reason for the firefighter's presence. ( Donohue, at p. 663.)
In Stapper v. GMI Holdings, Inc. (1999) 73 Cal.App.4th 787 86, firefighters responded to a house fire and were trapped in a garage when the door failed to open. One of the firefighters sued the garage door manufacturer. The court reversed the nonsuit for the defendant, finding no policy considerations supported application of the firefighter's rule. ( Id. at p. 796.)
Limitations on the firefighter's rule are codified in Civil Code section 1714.9, which now provides in part as follows: "(a) Notwithstanding statutory or decisional law to the contrary, any person is responsible not only for the results of that person's willful acts causing injury to a peace officer, firefighter, or any emergency medical personnel employed by a public entity, but also for any injury occasioned to that person by the want of ordinary care or skill in the management of the person's property or person, in any of the following situations:
(1) Where the conduct causing the injury occurs after the person knows or should have known of the presence of the peace officer, firefighter, or emergency medical personnel.
(2) Where the conduct causing injury violates a statute, ordinance, or regulation, and the conduct causing injury was itself not the event that precipitated either the response or presence of the peace officer, firefighter, or emergency medical personnel.
(3) Where the conduct causing the injury was intended to injure the peace officer, firefighter, or emergency medical personnel.
(4) Where the conduct causing the injury is arson as defined in Section 451 of the Penal Code."
Civil Code section 1714.9 was amended in 2001, after the accident in this case. (Stats. 2001, ch. 140, 2.) The amendment changed the wording of subdivision (a)(2) and added subdivision (e).
These statutory exceptions to the firefighter's rule are not exclusive; the common law independent cause exception still applies. "This section is not intended to change or modify the common law independent cause exception to the firefighter's rule as set forth in Donohue v. San Francisco Housing Authority , supra, 16 Cal.App.4th 658" (Civ. Code, 1714.9, subd. (e).)