The Expansion of California’s Firefighter’s Rule Beyond its Intended Scope by Harley Glazer

The firefighter’s rule is a legal doctrine that prevents a firefighter from recovering from an individual whose ordinary negligence created the fire.[1] While it may seem harsh to disadvantage those who risk their lives to protect society, there are several policy considerations that support the doctrine.  First, firefighters should not be permitted to sue for the very negligence which begets their employment.[2] Second, firefighters receive specialized training in combating fires.[3] Thus, if they fail to properly employ their skills, they should not place the blame on the fire starter.  Third, firefighters already receive adequate compensation for the risks attendant with their employment.[4] Lastly, the general public should not be subject to double liability, given that the public already pays for the services of firefighters through taxes.[5] However, the firefighter’s rule is inappropriate in certain other contexts, which the legislature should take action to prevent. Several California courts have inappropriately extended the firefighter’s rule to other professions. For example, in Holland v. Crumb, the California Second Appellate Division prohibited a tow truck driver from recovering for injuries he sustained when he was struck by a car while attempting to tow a car that was situated on the side of the highway. [read more]