Q: My husband is a firefighter who was recently injured on the job while fighting a fire. He doesn’t think he is entitled to any monetary compensation because he assumes the risk of the job and is trained to deal with danger. Is he entitled to sue for his personal injuries?
A: Firefighters and police officers provide vital, life-saving services to New Yorkers every day. Their job is replete with dangers and threats that they confront on a daily basis. As seen in recent events, first responders, firefighters and police officers run towards danger to protect the public with little regard for their own safety. When firefighters and police officers are injured in the line of duty, there are legal mechanisms to insure that they can be made whole and compensated for their injuries. The legal architecture is not without hurdles, however.
Traditionally, New York courts followed the "Firefighter's Rule" which bars recovery in negligence for injuries sustained by a firefighter (or police officer) while in the line of duty. The rule, which has its origins in the common law, was initially premised on the idea that firefighters responding to a fire were licensees and thus took the property as they found it. Another rationale for the rule was that firefighters assumed the risk of suffering the kinds of injuries that go along with being employed in that profession. More recently, courts have justified the rule on the ground that firefighters are well-trained professionals who are hired and compensated specifically to confront dangerous situations that are frequently caused by someone's negligence. and must be precluded from recovering damages for the very situations that create a need for their services.
This harsh rule has far reaching implications that could prevent a firefighter or police officer who sustained terrible injuries as a result of someone’s negligence from receiving compensation for his or her loss. To ameliorate the effects of the Firefighter’s Rule, the state legislature enacted a series of laws designed to protect firefighters and police officers.