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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. Being on this journey from the beginning has convinced me the justice system really doesn't care about the welfare of the child. The trial court judge knew the child belonged with the mother. The father having total disregard for the rules of the court. Not only did this cost the mother and child valuable time together but thousands in legal fees. When the child was with the father the mother paid her child support. When the child was finally with the right parent somehow the father got away without having to pay one penny of child support. He had to be in control. Since he withheld all information regarding the child's welfare he put her in harms way. Mother took the child to the doctor when she got sick and was totally embarrassed she knew nothing regarding the medical information especially the allergies, The mother texted the father (from the doctors office) and he replied call his attorney. To me this doesn't seem like a concerned father. Seeing the child upset when she had to go back to the father. What upset me the most was finding out the child sleeps with him. Sometimes in the nude. Maybe I don't understand all the rules of the law but I thought this was also morally wrong. A concerned parent would allow the child to finish the school year. Say goodbye to her friends. It saddens me to know the child will not have contact with the sisters, aunts, uncles and the 87 year old grandfather. He didn't allow it before. Only the mother is allowed to talk to the child. I don't think now will be any different. I hope the decision the courts made would've been the same one if this was a member of their family. Someday this child will end up in therapy if allowed to remain with the father.

  2. Ok attorney Straw ... if that be a good idea ... And I am not saying it is ... but if it were ... would that be ripe prior to her suffering an embarrassing remand from the Seventh? Seems more than a tad premature here soldier. One putting on the armor should not boast liked one taking it off.

  3. The judge thinks that she is so cute to deny jurisdiction, but without jurisdiction, she loses her immunity. She did not give me any due process hearing or any discovery, like the Middlesex case provided for that lawyer. Because she has refused to protect me and she has no immunity because she rejected jurisdiction, I am now suing her in her district.

  4. Sam Bradbury was never a resident of Lafayette he lived in rural Tippecanoe County, Thats an error.

  5. Sam Bradbury was never a resident of Lafayette he lived in rural Tippecanoe County, Thats an error.

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