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Connecticut Supreme Court limits reach of firefighters' rule

Firefighters and police officers in Connecticut are often injured in the course of their employment. In virtually all such cases, the state's workers' compensation commission provides compensation for medical expenses, lost income, and temporary and permanent disability. Like other injured workers in the state, firefighters and police officers can also maintain third-party liability actions against parties who are not employers but who may be at fault for any injuries. However, this right is limited by the state's so-called "firefighters' rule," a legal doctrine that limits the kinds of third-party actions that firefighters and police officers can bring.

The common law firefighter's rule provides that a firefighter or police officer who enters private property in the exercise of official duties cannot bring a civil action against the owner of the premises for liability based upon a defect in the premises. In two recent cases, defendants asserted the firefighter's rule as a defense to third-party lawsuits by police officers. In the first case, the plaintiff police officer suffered injuries when he tried to break into the defendant's home. The complaint alleged that the defendant had acted negligently. The trial court invoked the firefighters' rule and dismissed the complaint. In a similar case, a state trooper sued for damages caused by a hospital's negligence when he attempted to sue an emotionally disturbed person. Relying on the firefighters' rule, the court dismissed the complaint.

In both cases, the Supreme Court reversed the orders of dismissal. The court ruled that the firefighter's rule applies only to cases in which the injuries were alleged to have been caused by a defect in the premises. When a plaintiff police officer or firefighter seeks damages caused by a third party's negligence, the firefighters' rule does not bar the claim.

Third-party claims in workplace injury cases can be very complex, even if the firefighters' rule is not involved. Anyone who has suffered an injury caused in part by the fault of a non-employer third-party may wish to consult a lawyer who handles workers compensation cases for advice on the merits of any possible claim against third-parties.

Source: Legal News Line, "Conn. SC: Firefighter's rule does not extend to cases alleging ordinary negligence," Jessica Karmasek, Nov. 6, 2017

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