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Can Police Officers Sue Suspects for Personal Injury?

Police officers do risky work and often interact with dangerous people. Officers are sometimes injured on the job, and Nevada provides robust workers’ compensation coverage to ensure that their costs are covered. But in some situations an officer may also think about filing a personal injury lawsuit against someone who has caused their injury, especially if the responsible person caused the injury deliberately. Nevada law limits the circumstances when an officer can sue suspects and others.

The “firefighter’s rule” limits officers’ right to sue for personal injury

Nevada police officers and other first responders are limited in their ability to sue members of the public for personal injury that officers suffer while on the job. The so-called “firefighter’s rule,” adopted by the Nevada Supreme Court in Steelman v. Lind, 97 Nev. 425, 427-28 (1981), rests on two bases. First, officers are specifically hired to confront dangerous situations on behalf of the general population. And second, officers receive compensation, training, and insurance in exchange for assuming the risk of injury.

The basis of the firefighter’s rule is partly a concern that the public might be reluctant to call upon the help of the police if doing so created a risk of personal liability. In other words, the rule is chiefly designed to protect bystanders, victims of crime, and landowners from liability for their negligence. A side effect of the rule is that criminal suspects can be protected by it as well.

Where the firefighter’s rule may not apply

Nevada law provides a number of specific exceptions to the firefighter’s rule that may nevertheless allow a personal injury lawsuit against a suspect to go forward.

  • An officer can sue for injuries arising from willful acts intended to injure the officer, provided that the willful act:
    • was intended to injure the officer,
    • violated a statute, ordinance, or regulation intended to protect officers, prohibiting resistance, or requiring compliance with officer instructions, or
    • constituted arson.
  • If the cause of the officer’s injury was negligence that was unrelated to the emergency that caused the officer to be on the scene. Moody v. Manny’s Auto Repair, 110 Nev. 320 (1994).

The first point above is probably the most important one for officers who confront dangerous people in the field. When a suspect intentionally tries to harm an officer, the officer has a clear option of suing for personal injury. Whether such a suit makes sense under the circumstances will depend on many factors. For example, a suspect may not have financial resources to pay a civil judgment, especially given that the suspect likely will be doing jail time anyway.

GGRM is here to answer officers’ questions

The law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez is proud of its long history of helping members of the Las Vegas first responder community with their personal injury and workers’ compensation cases. If you have questions about your right to sue a suspect or others for a personal injury suffered on the job, please give us a call today for a free attorney consultation. We can be reached at 702-388-4476 or through our contacts page.