By Curtis Jones
It’s been over a decade since the Indiana Supreme Court has issued an opinion regarding the “fireman’s rule.” See Heck v. Robey, 659 N.E.2d 498, 500 (Ind. 1995). Over time, courts had begun to erode the applicability of the rule, and had limited the rule to premises liability cases. See, e.g., Johnson v. Steffen, 685 N.E.2d 1117, 1119 (Ind. Ct. App. 1997), trans. denied.
In Babes Showclub, Jaba, Inc. v. Lair, Case No. 49A05-0805-cv-262, the Indiana Supreme Court reaffirmed the fireman’s rule. The Court held: “[T]he ‘fireman’s rule’ bars recovery by a professional emergency responder for the negligence that created the situation requiring the response.” In other words, “an emergency responder may not recover for the negligence that created the situation to which the responder responds.” In Lair, a police officer was unable to state a claim for injuries he incurred when responding to a call to remove an unruly patron from Babes Showclub.
The purpose of the rule stems from a policy decision that emergency responders know of the dangerous circumstance for which they are entering (example, a burning building) and incur the associated risk. Courts have made the policy decision that the emergency responders should not be able to sue for the negligence that created the emergency circumstance.
In addition to reaffirming the rule’s bar, the Court was careful to describe the rule’s limitation. The fireman’s rule “does not bar recovery for negligence [or intentional tortious conduct] unrelated to the creation of the emergency.” For example, in Johnson, a police officer, while responding to a call to remove a parked car from a bicycle lane, was hit by a cyclist involved in a racing event and injured. Under the rule, as described in Lair, the officer would be barred from recovering from any negligence from the driver/owner of the car, but may pursue a claim for any alleged negligence of the cyclist or cyclist event organizer.