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Opinion examines history of Fireman's Rule

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After delving into the history of caselaw involving Indiana's Fireman's Rule, the Indiana Court of Appeals determined a couple's complaint against an Indianapolis strip club is barred by the rule. The appellate court reversed the denial of the club's motion to dismiss the complaint.

In Babes Showclub, Jaba, Inc., and James B. Altman v. Patrick and Lisa Lair, No. 49A05-0805-CV-262, the Lairs brought a complaint against the strip club for injuries Patrick Lair, an Indianapolis police officer, allegedly suffered at the hands of an underage patron while responding to a complaint on the club's premises. The record doesn't explain the nature of the complaint.

Babes filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, arguing the claims are barred by Indiana's Fireman's Rule. The trial court denied the motion, which led to this interlocutory appeal.

Judge Terry Crone went through the history of the rule, beginning with the Indiana Supreme Court ruling, Woodruff v. Bowen, 136 Ind. 431, 34 N.E. 1113 (1893), in which fireman Woodruff was killed while fighting a fire at a building Bowen owned in downtown Indianapolis. The building was remodeled and unable to withstand the weight from a tenant's stationer's stock and the water that was used to fight the fire. The Supreme Court found Bowen wasn't liable for Woodruff's death because Woodruff was acting in his capacity as a firefighter and was a licensee. Also, Bowen hadn't exerted any "positive wrongful act" that resulted in Woodruff's injury.

The Court of Appeals examined other caselaw dealing with this rule, including Pallikan v. Mark, 163 Ind. App. 178, 323 N.E.2d 398 (1975), Koop v. Bailey, 502 N.E.2d 116 (Ind. Ct. App. 1986), and Heck v. Robey, 659 N.E.2d 498 (Ind. 1995), in which the Supreme Court revisited the Fireman's Rule for the first time in more than a century. During the years and through the subsequent caselaw, the Fireman's Rule was expanded to other professions whose jobs, such as police officer and paramedic, require them to be put in harms way.

The Court of Appeals used Woodruff to explain its reasoning for reversing the denial of Babes' motion. It was decided in that case that a landowner owes no duty to a firefighter except when committing a positive wrongful act that may result in injury. The Lairs haven't alleged that the showclub committed any positive wrongful act, so their general negligence, negligent security, and common law dram shop claims are barred by the Fireman's Rule, wrote Judge Crone. To the extent that Babes violated any statutes or ordinances in serving alcohol to the patron, nothing indicates those laws were enacted specifically to protect police responding to a complaint on a landowners' premises, so the Lairs' can't recover under this theory of liability.

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