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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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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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