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Nevada Follows A Modified “Firefighter’s Rule”

The “firefighter’s rule” recognizes that as citizens go about their business, they do silly things that create risks.  House fires are inadvertently started.  Cars die on the freeway due to a failure to fill the tank.  However, citizens also pay taxes to fund the police and fire departments to help out in situations like these.  The “firefigher’s rule” suggests that it is unfair for citizens to pay taxes to fund the police and the firefighters and while at the same time to be at risk to pay damages to the public servants that are injured responding to those calls.

Fire dept badge In the case of Steelman v. Lind, 97 Nev. 425, 634 P.2d 666 (1981) the Nevada Supreme Court followed the “firefighter’s rule” (called the “fireman’s rule” in days gone by) and prevented a seriously injured highway patrol trooper from recovering from truck driver Lind who had lost his load of beehives full of live bees on I-15.  In that case, Lind pulled off to recover what he could of his buzzing cargo.  Trooper Steelman stopped to help.  He put out flares and parked his vehicle near Lind’s truck with his emergency lights on.  Understandably, he got back inside his vehicle and stayed there.  As Lind continued the clean up, another tractor-trailer crashed into the rear of Trooper’s patrol car and pushed it into Lind’s trailer, seriously injuring the trooper.

Trooper Steelman filed a negligence case against Lind and hoped that he could get that case to the jury, where I am sure he would have elicited great sympathy.  However, in ending the case against Lind, the Nevada Supreme Court explained why it should follow the “fireman’s rule”:

A public safety officer in Steelman’s position cannot base a tort claim upon damage caused by the very risk that he is paid to encounter and with which he is trained to cope. Such officers, in accepting the salary and fringe benefits offered for the job, assume all normal risks inherent in the employment as a matter of law and thus may not recover from one who negligently creates such a risk.  (citations omitted).

97 Nev. at 427-28.

The legislature then stepped in and passed N.R.S. 41.139 which narrowed the scope of the “firefighter’s rule”.  In the case of Moody v. Manny’s Auto Repair, 110 Nev. 320, 871 P.2d 935 (1994) the Nevada Supreme Court explained the effect of the statute.  The court said:

The firefighter’s rule, as set forth in Steelman v. Lind, 97 Nev. 425, 634 P.2d 666 (1981), and as modified by NRS 41.139, is still operative in Nevada, and its scope is limited to those instances when the negligent act which injures the public servant is the same act which required the public servant’s presence.

110 Nev. at 328.

Another post statute case is Wiley v. Redd, 110 Nev. 1310, 885 P.2d 592 (1994).  In that case, a police officer was called to a home where the alarm company had reported a possible burglary.  The police officer did not find any burglars but did find dogs that injured him.  The Supreme Court allowed the case against the homeowner to go forward but the case against the alarm company could not.

The most recent case is Borgerson v. Scanlon, 117 Nev. 216, 19 P.3d 236 (2001).  In that case, the Supreme Court enforced the “firefigher’s rule” where a police officer was injured arresting suspect at his home.  Although the officer was called out to respond to the disturbance, he argued that the defendant, the mother of the suspect who had called him out, interfered with the arrest.  The Supreme Court ultimately sustained the trial court’s grant of Summary Judgment.

Bottom line is that every fact pattern is going to be different and what had been a clear cut rule and a relatively guaranteed win on summary judgment now often becomes a question of fact for the jury.

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Michael Mills About Michael Mills

Mr. Mills practices in the area of civil litigation and appeals, with particular experience in matters involving trucking liability, insurance defense, insurance coverage, premises liability, products liability and defense of personal injury. Mr. Mills is a member of the Trucking Insurance Defense Association, the Defense Research Institute Trucking Committee and the Nevada Motor Transport Association. Mr. Mills is licensed to practice before the Nevada Supreme Court and the Utah Supreme Court. He is also licensed to appear before the United States Supreme Court, the U.S. District Courts for the Districts of Nevada and Utah, as well as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Mr. Mills has created 3 Blogs for the benefit of the insurance industry. He serves as editor and publisher of the Nevada Insurance Law Blog, the Nevada Coverage and Bad Faith Blog and the Nevada Trucking Law Blog.

 
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