What Is the Firefighter Rule ?
In 1968 California adopted the almost century-old, common law firefighter's rule. (Giorgi v. Pacific Gas & Elec. Co. (1968) 266 Cal. App. 2d 355, 357-360 72 Cal. Rptr. 119; Lipson v. Superior Court (1982) 31 Cal. 3d 362, 367 182 Cal. Rptr. 629, 644 P.2d 822; Walters v. Sloan (1977) 20 Cal. 3d 199, 202 142 Cal. Rptr. 152, 571 P.2d 609.)
Although generally "we all have the duty to use due care to avoid injuring others," the firefighter's rule provides an exception to that general duty of care; it is "a special rule . . . that limits the duty of care the public owes to firefighters and police officers." (Neighbarger v. Irwin Industries, Inc. (1994) 8 Cal. 4th 532, 536, 538 34 Cal. Rptr. 2d 630, 882 P.2d 347.)
"Under the firefighter's rule, a member of the public who negligently starts a fire owes no duty of care to assure that the firefighter who is summoned to combat the fire is not injured thereby.
Nor does a member of the public whose conduct precipitates the intervention of a police officer owe a duty of care to the officer with respect to the original negligence that caused the officer's intervention." (Id. at p. 538.)
"The undergirding legal principle of the rule is assumption of the risk . . . ." (Calatayud v. State of California (1998) 18 Cal. 4th 1057, 1061 77 Cal. Rptr. 2d 202, 959 P.2d 360 (hereafter Calatayud).)
Firefighters, " 'whose occupation by its very nature exposes them to particular risks of harm, " 'cannot complain of negligence in the creation of the very occasion for their engagement." (Walters v. Sloan, supra, 20 Cal. 3d at p. 202.)
"The firefighter's rule is based on a principle . . . applicable to our entire system of justice--one who has knowingly and voluntarily confronted a hazard cannot recover for injuries sustained thereby." (Id. at p. 204.)
"As a matter of public policy and fairness, when firefighters and police officers are injured by the very hazard they have been employed to confront, they are generally precluded from recovering in tort damages from private persons.
The firefighter's rule is based on the public policy that officers injured in the line of duty should be compensated through the public fisc rather than by individual tort recoveries." (Tilley v. Schulte (1999) 70 Cal. App. 4th 79, 83 82 Cal. Rptr. 2d 497.)
"The firefighter's rule precludes recovery for injuries suffered as a direct consequence of responding to calls in the line of duty." (Ibid.)
However, the firefighter's rule is subject to a common law exception. "The firefighter does not assume every risk of his or her occupation.
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, supra, 8 Cal. 4th at p. 538.)
The firefighter's rule is also subject to a statutory exception. In 1982 Civil Code section 1714.9 3 was enacted, "codifying certain exceptions" to the firefighter's rule. (Calatayud, supra, 18 Cal. 4th at p. 1063.)
Section 1714.9 permits liability for negligent acts of any person that cause injury to a police officer, firefighter, or emergency medical personnel when that negligent "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." ( 1714.9, subd. (a)(1).)
Section 1714.9, subdivision (a)(1) (hereafter section 1714.9(a)(1)) "broadens the common law exception by eliminating the requirement that the injury result from subsequent independent acts of misconduct committed after the defendant becomes aware of the officer's presence." (Calatayud, supra, at p. 1069.)