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'Fireman's rule' prevents officer from filing suit

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The "fireman's rule" doesn't allow a professional emergency responder to file a claim for the negligence that creates the emergency to which he or she responds, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld today. As a result of its ruling, the high court unanimously ruled a police officer's complaint against an adult showclub must be dismissed.

In Babes Showclub, Jaba Inc., and James B. Altman v. Patrick and Lisa Lair, No. 49S05-0905-CV-214, the justices examined the 116-year-old rule originally established in Woodruff v. Bowen, 136 Ind. 431, 34 N.E. 1113 (1893). Patrick and Lisa Lair sued Babes Showclub and its owner after Patrick, an Indianapolis police officer, was injured by a drunk, underage patron while responding to a report of an unruly customer at the club. They alleged the club maintained a nuisance, was negligent in failing to provide adequate security, and violated dram shop laws.

Babes filed a motion to have the complaint dismissed for failure to state a claim, citing Indiana's fireman's rule. The trial court denied that, but certified it for interlocutory appeal. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, holding the fireman's rule prevented any recovery by Lair.

The justices took a look at past cases dealing with the fireman's rule, which continued to hold that a professional emergency responder couldn't sue unless a property owner failed to refrain from "positive wrongful acts." The high court in 1995 established an exception to the rule in Heck v. Robey, 659 N.E.2d 498, 500 (Ind. 1995), in which it held a paramedic wasn't barred from recovering for injuries he sustained as a result of acts happening after he arrived on the scene.

Previous caselaw viewed the fireman's rule as turning solely on premises liability, which isn't correct, wrote Justice Theodore Boehm. Heck didn't limit the rule to injuries sustained on the defendant's premises; the responder could recover because of the "positive wrongful acts" committed by Robey: Robey became violent and injured Heck after he responded to Robey's accident.

"In sum, previous Indiana cases are consistent in results, if not in reasoning," wrote the justice. "Each is consistent with the view that an emergency responder may not recover for the negligence that created the situation to which the responder responds, but the rule applies only to emergency responders, and does not bar recovery for negligence unrelated to the creation of the emergency."

Public policy is the basis for the rule, the justices agreed, and the fireman's rule is best understood as reflecting a policy determination that emergency responders shouldn't be able to sue for the negligence that created the emergency to which they respond to in their official capacity.

Lair's complaint alleged nothing suggesting that Babes was negligent in any aspect apart from the negligence that produced the emergency situation with the unruly patron. As a result, the complaint fails to state a claim against the club in the face of the fireman's rule, wrote Justice Boehm.

The case was remanded with instructions to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

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  1. It really doesn't matter what the law IS, if law enforcement refuses to take reports (or take them seriously), if courts refuse to allow unrepresented parties to speak (especially in Small Claims, which is supposedly "informal"). It doesn't matter what the law IS, if constituents are unable to make effective contact or receive any meaningful response from their representatives. Two of our pets were unnecessarily killed; court records reflect that I "abandoned" them. Not so; when I was denied one of them (and my possessions, which by court order I was supposed to be able to remove), I went directly to the court. And earlier, when I tried to have the DV PO extended (it expired while the subject was on probation for violating it), the court denied any extension. The result? Same problems, less than eight hours after expiration. Ironic that the county sheriff was charged (and later pleaded to) with intimidation, but none of his officers seemed interested or capable of taking such a report from a private citizen. When I learned from one officer what I needed to do, I forwarded audio and transcript of one occurrence and my call to law enforcement (before the statute of limitations expired) to the prosecutor's office. I didn't even receive an acknowledgement. Earlier, I'd gone in to the prosecutor's office and been told that the officer's (written) report didn't match what I said occurred. Since I had the audio, I can only say that I have very little faith in Indiana government or law enforcement.

  2. One can only wonder whether Mr. Kimmel was paid for his work by Mr. Burgh ... or whether that bill fell to the citizens of Indiana, many of whom cannot afford attorneys for important matters. It really doesn't take a judge(s) to know that "pavement" can be considered a deadly weapon. It only takes a brain and some education or thought. I'm glad to see the conviction was upheld although sorry to see that the asphalt could even be considered "an issue".

  3. In response to bryanjbrown: thank you for your comment. I am familiar with Paul Ogden (and applaud his assistance to Shirley Justice) and have read of Gary Welsh's (strange) death (and have visited his blog on many occasions). I am not familiar with you (yet). I lived in Kosciusko county, where the sheriff was just removed after pleading in what seems a very "sweetheart" deal. Unfortunately, something NEEDS to change since the attorneys won't (en masse) stand up for ethics (rather making a show to please the "rules" and apparently the judges). I read that many attorneys are underemployed. Seems wisdom would be to cull the herd and get rid of the rotting apples in practice and on the bench, for everyone's sake as well as justice. I'd like to file an attorney complaint, but I have little faith in anything (other than the most flagrant and obvious) resulting in action. My own belief is that if this was medicine, there'd be maimed and injured all over and the carnage caused by "the profession" would be difficult to hide. One can dream ... meanwhile, back to figuring out to file a pro se "motion to dismiss" as well as another court required paper that Indiana is so fond of providing NO resources for (unlike many other states, who don't automatically assume that citizens involved in the court process are scumbags) so that maybe I can get the family law attorney - whose work left me with no settlement, no possessions and resulted in the death of two pets (etc ad nauseum) - to stop abusing the proceedings supplemental and small claims rules and using it as a vehicle for harassment and apparently, amusement.

  4. Been on social security sense sept 2011 2massive strokes open heart surgery and serious ovarian cancer and a blood clot in my lung all in 14 months. Got a letter in may saying that i didn't qualify and it was in form like i just applied ,called social security she said it don't make sense and you are still geting a check in june and i did ,now i get a check from my part D asking for payment for july because there will be no money for my membership, call my prescription coverage part D and confirmed no check will be there.went to social security they didn't want to answer whats going on just said i should of never been on it .no one knows where this letter came from was California im in virginia and been here sense my strokes and vcu filed for my disability i was in the hospital when they did it .It's like it was a error . My ,mothers social security was being handled in that office in California my sister was dealing with it and it had my social security number because she died last year and this letter came out of the same office and it came at the same time i got the letter for my mother benefits for death and they had the same date of being typed just one was on the mail Saturday and one on Monday. . I think it's a mistake and it should been fixed instead there just getting rid of me .i never got a formal letter saying when i was being tsken off.

  5. Employers should not have racially discriminating mind set. It has huge impact on the society what the big players do or don't do in the industry. Background check is conducted just to verify whether information provided by the prospective employee is correct or not. It doesn't have any direct combination with the rejection of the employees. If there is rejection, there should be something effective and full-proof things on the table that may keep the company or the people associated with it in jeopardy.

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