The court held that the defendants could not be held liable for the injury under Georgia's fireman's rule (Legally Speaking).
Unlike the case in South Carolina, Georgia does acknowledge the fireman's rule as law and as such the EMT could not receive damages for the injuries suffered. In this particular case it was assumed that the EMT knowingly took the risk associated with responding to an accidental chemical spill. Responding to such a call would be particularly risky if the EMT knew that she suffered from asthma. Now if the chemical spill had been intentional on the part of MFG Chemical Inc., the defendant may have been held liable for the injuries suffered. In any case the court could not award her any damages because of the fireman's rule.
As you can see this particular law can definite prevent a firefighter or any other type of emergency responder from collecting damages in instances where they are injured while performing their job duties. However, in states where the fireman's rules dare not present emergency responders can receive damages for injuries, even if the injuries occur while the law enforcement officer is engaged in the normal duties of the job. It is also important to keep in mind that although some states may not have a fireman's rule they may have other laws on the books that involve the assumption of risks premise and as such, they still may experience difficulty when attempting to collect damages.
These aforementioned cases are a tangible example of the fireman's rule in the court systems of two different states. One state does not acknowledge the fireman's rule as a law while the other state denies a plaintiff the ability to collect damages based on the fireman's rule which is acknowledged by the court system. For many states the modern fireman's rules will remain unchanged well into the future, while others will choose to modify the rule in the future. The next section of this discussion will explore the future of the fireman's rule.
Future of the fireman's Rule
Since the establishment of the fireman's rule states have reformed the law on various occasions. In the future there may be additional reforms made to meet the needs of a changing world and population. For instance some states may have to reform laws to deal with the ongoing threat of terrorism. Courts and legislators will have to examine tough questions in this regard. For instance, will a land owner or business be held liable for injuries that occur as a result of an act of terrorism if the land owner had prior knowledge that an attack was probable and did not make security changes that may have prevented the attack? If the building owner is held liable, will the country that harbored the terrorist also be held liable for the injuries of firefighters or law enforcement officers?
These types of question are even more pertinent in the wake of the terrorist attack that occurred on September 11, 2001. In particular, it is now evident that many of the first responders, are now suffering from physical ailments as a result of the air at ground zero being polluted with building materials containing toxins. Many first responders including police officers and firefighters have died as a result of this pollution. There has been a great deal of controversy concerning the liability that the city might have in being negligent by declaring that the air was safe enough for the first responders to work there for many weeks and even months at a time. Did these workers assume some risks because they chose to stay in that environment even though some of them began to experience respiratory problem early on? Or did these individuals remain because they were told that the air was clean enough and therefore did not pose a risk?
It is critically important that in the future, the court systems and legislators develop laws that will address the aforementioned issues. It would be advantageous of state governments to settle or establish how or if the fireman's rule will be applied if the aforementioned scenarios do occur. We all hope that another terrorist attack does not occur, but if one does states must be prepared to deal with the issues that may arise out of such an attack.
It may be the case in the future that states will reform the current fireman's rules so that the aforementioned scenarios are addressed in a manner that is fair for all involved. Other states may choose to abandon the fireman's rule altogether and work towards the establishment of some other law that serves the public safety interests and protects firefighters and law enforcement officers from the negligent acts of individuals. In any case, the fireman's rule will continue to be an issue well into the future.
Discussion and Conclusion
The purpose of this discussion is to describe the history, present status, and future of the "Fireman's Rule." The research found that the fireman's rule was first established in 1892, to protect from liability landowners, if a situation occurred in which a firefighter or a law enforcement officer was injured while carrying out their duties. The research indicated that the fireman's law is based on the concept of assumption of risks. This means that firefighters and police officers are aware that certain risks will be present when carrying out their job duties and that taking these risks may cause bodily harm. In addition the original law identified firefighters as mere licensees and as such a landowner could not be held responsible for injuries that resulted unless the landowner was willfully negligent.
As it relates to modern law, the research found that many states have adapted some type of law encompassing the fireman's rule. The research indicates that the exact details of such laws differ from state to state and usually make some concession for firefighters or law enforcement agents to hold property owners or citizens liable when injuries occur. The research also indicates that some states such as South Carolina, do not acknowledge the fireman's rule at all.
The discussion also focused on lawsuits that have been filed. The investigation found that several cases have been filed throughout the United States involving the fireman's rule. For the purposes of this discussion we focused on cases file in South Carolina and Georgia. Although these are neighboring states, South Carolina does not recognize the fireman's rule as law and as such in 2002 the South Carolina supreme court answered a certified question concerning the case of Minnich v. Med-Waste by stating that the fireman's law did not apply to cases in the state of south Carolina and as such the plaintiff had a right to sue for damages resulting from an injury that occurred during the course of the plaintiff's job as a public safety officer. On the other hand, the plaintiff in state of Georgia could not be awarded damages because the fireman's rule does apply to cases filed and occurring in the state of Georgia.
Finally the discussion focused on the future of the fireman's law. It can be concluded that the fireman's law may have to be altered or changed to better address the lawsuits that may be derived in the wake of a terrorist attack if it is believed that a building owner did not take proper care in securing the property even though they were aware that a terrorist attack was likely. In the future states will have to pose very difficult questions so that liability issues are clear.
Overall this discussion has provided a sensible overview of the fireman's law including its origin and purpose. The research also examined the manner in which states implement these laws at the current time and some actual cases that were shaped by this particular law. It is clear that the fireman's rule will be a topic of discussion and debate well into the future.
Alpert, Geoffrey P., and Roger G. Dunham. Controlling Responses to Emergency Situations. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.
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