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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.

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.

First Responders and Third-Party Negligence

First Responders and Third-Party Negligence
First responders face a lot of risks on the job. Firefighters sometimes have to enter burning buildings. Police officers sometimes get into physical altercations with suspects. But sometimes the risks they face are not of the typical sort one might expect. The firefighter rushing into a burning building could fall on a badly maintained staircase. Or a police officer could be attacked by a dog that isn’t properly restrained. In cases where third party neglect causes an injury, what legal recourse is available to the injured first responder?

The “firefighter’s rule” limits personal injury lawsuits

Nevada limits when a first responder can sue a third party for personal injuries the first responder suffers while responding to an emergency. The so-called “firefighter’s rule” is based on the idea that emergency personnel are public servants paid to take risks in the course of their duties. Essentially, the rule assumes that first responders assume the risk of injury. In Nevada, the rule originated in the state Supreme Court decision in Steelman v. Lind, 97 Nev. 425 (1981). In response to Steelman, the Nevada legislature created an exemption to the rule’s default bar against recovery. Under NRS 41.139, a first responder may sue for personal injury if the injury was caused by the defendant’s willful act or lack of ordinary care or skill in the management of their property and one of the following things was true:
  1. The conduct causing the injury occurred after the defendant knew or should have known about the presence of the first responder on the property.
  2. The person intended to cause the injury (for example, by setting a trap).
  3. The conduct violated a statute, ordinance or regulation that was intended to protect the first responder, or that prohibits resistance or requires compliance with the first responder’s instructions.
  4. The injury arose as a consequence of arson.
In Moody v. Manny’s Auto Repair, 110 Nev. 320, 326 (1994), the Nevada Supreme Court interpreted NRS 41.139 as a narrowing of the firefighter’s rule’s bar against recovery to “those instances when the negligent act which injures the public servant is the same act which required the public servant's presence.” In Moody the question was whether the firefighter’s rule prevented a police officer for injuries caused by a cable strung across the entrance to the defendant’s parking lot. Officer Moody had turned into the lot as a shortcut while in pursuit of a driver who had run a red light. Id. at 322. Because the event causing the officer’s presence on the property wasn’t related to the thing that caused the injury, the officer’s suit could go forward.

File a workers’ compensation claim

Regardless of whether the firefighter’s rule prevents a civil lawsuit, a first responder who is injured while on the job should file a workers’ compensation claim. Although the benefits of  workers’ compensation insurance might be substantially less than what could potentially be recovered in a personal injury lawsuit, the fact remains that recovering damages through civil litigation can be slow. Workers’ comp coverage ensures that injured first responders get the care they need without going into personal debt. In cases where a personal injury suit is an option, the workers’ comp insurance carrier likely will require the first responder to agree to some form of subrogation. Insurance subrogation allows insurers to recover their costs from third parties who are responsible for the insured worker’s injuries. When considering whether a personal injury suit is a good idea, it’s worth evaluating how an insurer’s subrogation rights may limit personal recovery.

GGRM serves Las Vegas first responders

For over 45 years the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has proudly served the police, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel of the Las Vegas area. If you have questions about how Nevada’s firefighter’s rule affects your legal options, our attorneys are here to help.  To speak to an attorney, call us today at 702-388-4476, or ask us to call you by leaving a note on our contact page.