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Can Emergency Personnel Sue Landowners for Negligent Maintenance?

Emergency personnel often get hurt in the course of responding to emergencies. Firefighters can be injured by conditions on a property that have nothing to do with a fire. EMS professionals can fall on badly maintained stairs. Police can be attacked by dogs that aren’t adequately chained. When a landowner’s failure to take proper care of a property causes an injury, first responders may wonder if they have the option to sue for personal injury damages.

First responders assume the risk of injury

Nevada law limits when first responders can sue for injuries they suffer on the job. There are two policy reasons for this. First, first responders are paid by the public to confront dangers that members of the public may create through negligent acts. And second, first responders are paid and trained to assume the risk of personal injury. Steelman v. Lind, 97 Nev. 425, 427-28 (1981). In adopting this “firefighter’s rule” the Nevada Supreme Court in Steelman reasoned that the public might hesitate to call upon emergency personnel if doing so would create a risk of being sued. Instead, first responders are paid a salary and given fringe benefits, including workers’ compensation coverage. See id. at 427. But first responders should note that Nevada’s workers’ compensation law (the Nevada Industrial Insurance Act) prevents most lawsuits against employers for personal injury. NRS 616A.020. The only recourse against an employer for a job-related injury is to file a workers’ compensation claim.

Lawsuits for negligence unrelated to the emergency

The facts in Steelman illustrate how the firefighter’s rule works in the case of another person’s negligence. In Steelman a police officer pulled to the side of an interstate highway to assist someone who had lost beehives off the back of his trailer. The officer parked his car behind the trailer, with lights flashing, and was sitting in the patrol car when a tractor trailer struck it. In Steelman the beehive owner (Mr. Lind) had committed an act of negligence by allowing his beehives to fall into the roadway. But because Officer Steelman was responding to the emergency created by Mr. Lind’s negligence in Steelman’s role as a police officer, the firefighter’s rule applied. The same logic applies to negligent maintenance by a landowner where the negligence was the cause of the first responder being on the property. But the Nevada Supreme Court has ruled that the firefighter’s rule does not necessarily bar lawsuits for injuries arising from negligence that was unrelated to the event that led the first responder to be there. Moody v. Manny’s Auto Repair, 110 Nev. 320 (1994). A firefighter who gets burned helping someone escape from a structure fire probably can’t sue the landowner for negligently maintaining a gas line. But an EMS professional who is injured when a badly built staircase collapses may have recourse under the rule in Moody.

Statutory exceptions to the firefighter’s rule

There are several statutory exceptions to the firefighter’s rule. NRS 41.139 provides that first responders can sue for personal injury in cases where someone has not exercised ordinary care or skill in the management of a property, provided that the conduct that caused the injury (1) occurred after the responsible person knew or should have known that the first responder was on the property, (2) was conducted with the intent of hurting the first responder, (3) violated a statute, ordinance, or regulation, or (4) was arson.

GGRM can help sort through the details

For over 45 years, the lawyers at Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez have helped injured clients in the Las Vegas first responder community protect their legal rights and get the compensation they deserve. If you have questions about how the firefighter’s rule limits your options to sue a landowner for negligent maintenance, our attorneys are happy to help. For a free consultation reach out to us today at 702-388-4476 or contact us through our website.