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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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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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