If you are a police officer, firefighter, EMT or other first responder who was injured on the job in Spokane or beyond, you may greatly benefit from a free and confidential consultation with a Spokane personal injury lawyer. Professional rescuers should always contact us for a free consultation after any serious injury that was suffered while on duty.
The fireman’s rule
Every state has its own version of the fireman’s rule which operates to prohibit a firefighter or police officer from recovering damages for injuries that were caused by the negligence of the same person who created the necessity of their presence. As the rule now includes most emergency medical technicians, it might more appropriately be called the professional rescuer rule. The rationale behind the professional rescuer rule in the majority of states is that since firemen and police officers accept a salary and benefits for the performance of their duties, they assume all normal risks that come with that employment. On that basis, the general rule is that workers’ compensation benefits are the professional rescuer’s sole and exclusive remedy if he or she sustains an injury while on duty.
Independent third party claims
The Washington Supreme Court adopted the professional rescuer doctrine on the basis of that majority rationale, but it left the door open to unanticipated dangers or unforeseeable negligence that weren’t the cause for the rescue response. Those cases could be actionable. They’re often called third party claims.
Examples of independent third party claims
Let’s say a Spokane Valley firefighter is running a hose at the scene of a fire, and he or she is struck by a drunk driver. That’s likely an actionable third party claim and an exception to the professional rescuer doctrine rule. That same firefighter might be on EMT duty on his or her next shift. If the ambulance he or she is driving on the way to a call is hit by another drunk driver, that might be an actionable third party case too. If a police officer is writing a ticket on the shoulder of a roadway and gets hit by a car, there’s probably a viable third party claim in that factual context too. That’s because the professional rescuer doctrine was never intended to forgive negligent or intentional injury by an independent third party.
The facts and circumstances of every accident and injury are different. Numerous exceptions to the rescuer doctrine might arise. They might even apply to the property owner who was negligent and then called in a fire if he or she committed other independent acts of negligence like creating a dangerous condition in the premises. A careful evaluation of the facts and circumstances surrounding injury to or the death of any rescuer must be made.
There can be a fine line between workers’ compensation benefits as a professional rescuer’s sole and exclusive remedy and the ability to bring a third party action for an independent act or failure to act. Since a third party action might provide significantly more compensation for the professional rescuer, that avenue of relief should always be pursued if it’s available. Professional rescuers should contact us for a free consultation and case evaluation after any serious injury that was suffered while on duty. We’ll be pleased to discuss the facts and circumstances surrounding the injury, and if you retain us, we’ll pursue every option legally available to obtain full and fair compensation for you.