Fire Fighters And Law Suits

Firefighters Fight Fires, Not "Frivolous" Lawsuits

Firefighters afraid to save lives because of liability fears? Don't tell that to the Texas State Association of Fire Fighters, which recently denounced a television ad asserting this falsehood as a "disservice" to firefighters and asked that it be removed from the airwaves.

The claim that firefighters across this country are unduly burdened by civil tort lawsuits is unfounded. Firefighters acting within the discretionary scope of their job are generally immune -- it's only egregious actions outside this scope, such as failing to rescue or committing a non-duty violation, that are and should be cause for alarm. Consider, for example, the following cases:

  • Three children died and their parents were seriously injured in Indianapolis when a medicated fire department dispatcher carelessly sent firefighters to the wrong address.

  • An 18-year-old Maryland firefighter died after three volunteer firefighters, conspiring to get her drunk so they could have sex with her, left her inebriated, unattended and uncovered in the rear of a pickup truck in 29-degree weather.

More significant are the numerous examples of firefighters exercising their right to hold wrongdoers that endanger their lives accountable. Here are two examples:

  • A Texas firefighter died of injuries he received while fighting a fire when the high pressure hose on his air pack melted, releasing large amounts of air which not only intensified the fire, but also prevented him from using the air pack, forcing him to breathe toxic fumes. Caldwell v. U.S. Divers Co.

  • A California firefighter suffered brain damage when a defective gas mask malfunctioned. The manufacturer knew of the defect, but failed to advise the fire department or its distributor. Luttig v. Mine Safety Appliance Co. & Capital Fire Equipment Co.

Potential liability is not what's on firefighters' minds when they race to put out a fire. They're hoping that their equipment works and that their suits hold up to the heat. To be effective, firefighters need to be able to trust that their tools and protective clothing won't fail them and jeopardize their lives. Manufacturers should be concerned about producing the safest products for these heroes of society, not about manipulating American viewers and escaping liability when they make undependable items.

Used with permission from The Association of Trial Lawyers of America. All rights reserved.