The Court of Appeals of Indiana upheld the trial court in a decision granting summary judgment in favor of a firefighter who allegedly made malicious comments during the course of fighting a fire.
Terry Hart, Assistant Fire Chief with the Martinsville Fire Department, was overheard by the son of the plaintiff saying “let it burn” while responding in an assisting capacity to a fire in Washington Township. In a complaint against Hart, as an individual and in his capacity with the fire department, and against the Martinsville Fire Department for negligence, the family who owns the burned property alleged that Hart and the fire department didn’t take proper care in ensuring that the property was protected from the fire. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, citing the common law and black letter rule of governmental immunity.
In the opinion of Ellis v. City of Martinsville, No. 55A01-1003-CT-141, the court determined that the negligence actions against Hart and the city did not have issues of material fact and granted summary judgment for the municipalities. The court sided with the argument that the fire department cannot be held liable for the decisions made by those in charge of its operations and also that the individuals in charge of making those decisions cannot be held liable as long as the decision is made in the course of employment. Because Hart arrived at the scene in firefighting gear and was paid for his time at the fire, he was determined to be acting in his capacity as a firefighter and, thus, was granted immunity from liability to the homeowners.