Police Officers Can File a Civil Lawsuit for a Work-Related Injury
Police officers and firefighters willingly assume the risks inherent in their duties. They put their lives on the line every day as they serve and protect, and they are paid to do so. It is this concept, along with the misplaced notion that there are adequate Workers’ Compensation laws available to those officers injured in the line of duty, that led to the adoption of California’s Fireman’s Rule, a rule that bars a public safety officer from bringing a civil action against someone for an injury that occurred in the line of duty.
But the job of a public safety officer is not as clear-cut as the rule may imply, and often times work-related injuries occur due to the negligence or misconduct of others that were not the reason for the public safety officer’s presence at the injury-producing event. The Fireman’s Rule often imposed an injustice on public safety officers because the person who created the dangerous condition suffered no consequence for his or her misconduct, and the public safety officer was significantly limited in economic recovery by the Workers' Compensation system.
In an attempt to rectify the injustice, the legislature enacted Civil Code Section 1714.9, which provides exceptions to the Fireman’s Rule. The statute authorizes civil lawsuits by police and firefighters when:
- The injury producing harm was caused by an intentional act or
- When the conduct is not intentional but occurs after the person knows or should have known of the presence of the public safety officer
- When the conduct occurs after the person knows or should have known of the presence of the public safety officer, and violates statues, ordinances or regulations designed to protect the public safety officer.
The following are examples of Civil Code 1714.9 in action as it pertains specifically to police officers.
- A police officer was injured on the job when a railroad crossing arm broke and struck him on the head. The Firefighter's Rule did not bar recovery from the city’s transit district because the negligence that allegedly caused the officer's injury was not the same as the one that prompted his presence at the scene.
- Police responded to a call regarding a restaurant employee who plunged a kitchen knife into another employee's back. The attacker threw scalding hot oil onto an officer, severely burning the officer's face, neck, arms and torso and damaging his ears. The attacker knew of the presence of the police officer and intended to injure him. Therefore, the Firefighter's Rule did not apply.
- An officer responded to a silent burglary alarm and while searching the premises fell through a defective ceiling. The property owner was aware of the defect and failed to warn the officer. The Fireman’s Rule did not prohibit the officer from bringing a lawsuit against the homeowner.
“Civil Code Section 1714.9 is a victory for public safety officers,” says Eugenia Steele, a Personal Injury partner in the law firm of Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, LLP (GEK). “The Fireman’s Rule in its traditional form is an injustice to those who make great sacrifices to protect us. We are dedicated to fighting for the rights of the men and woman who put our safety and well-being front and center every day.”
GEK provides free, confidential consultations for those considering legal representation in a Personal Injury or Workers’ Compensation case. If you have any questions, please call us at 213-739-7000.
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Southern California Chapter VII