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NYC Attorneys Assert Firefighter and Police Right to Sue

The old firefighter’s rule no longer applies for most line-of-duty injuries

It may sound shocking, but there was a time when NYC firefighters and police officers could not sue for most on-the-job injuries, even when another person was clearly at fault. Fortunately, New York takes a more enlightened approach today, and injured responders can bring legal actions against law-breakers and negligent parties. However, the old firefighter rule still applies to lawsuits against the firefighter’s employer. Barasch & McGarry has been instrumental in shaping this area of the law, obtaining several six and seven-figure recoveries, including:

  • $5.5 million each to the families of two firefighters who died in the line of duty at a Housing Authority building
  • $5.1 million settlement for a firefighter who lost his leg after being struck by a cab
  • $3.75 million settlement for a firefighter assaulted by an inebriated fellow firefighter

It is our mission to get firefighters, police officers, and EMS workers the compensation they deserve.

Evolution of the law from “firefighter’s rule” to General Municipal Law 205-a

Traditionally,   New York’s courts took a harsh and restrictive view on the rights of firefighters to sue for negligence for line-of-duty injuries.  Hewing to the firefighter’s rule, our courts reasoned that firefighters “assumed the risks” of their dangerous professions. Under the firefighter’s rule a firefighter could not sue if the performance of his duties increased the risk of the injury happening and did not merely furnish the occasion for the injury. Thus, a firefighter who slipped on a loose tile while inspecting a grocery store had a cause of action, but a firefighter who slipped on the same loose tile while putting out a fire could not.

The rule stripped firefighters and their families of any recourse for serious and career-ending injuries or wrongful death. It also insulated careless individuals from the consequences of their negligence.

In 1935, the New York State Legislature enacted General Municipal Law § 205-a, in an effort to provide relief from the draconian firefighter’s rule.  GML § 205-a  permits firefighters to sue when they are injured directly or indirectly as the result of someone’s violation of a statute, rule or regulation, and it is intended to be interpreted liberally.  But our courts were reluctant to interpret § 205-a in a manner consistent with the legislature’s intent to provide protection to firefighters.   Instead, over the years, our courts imposed restrictions on § 205-a cases, substantially weakening the statute.  In response to these judicial decisions, the Legislature amended GML § 205-a several times, culminating in amendments in 1996 that were meant, once and for all, to ensure that the statute was applied liberally in a manner that affords protection to firefighters.  That same year, the Legislature enacted General Obligations Law 11-106, sounding, at long last, the death knell for the firefighter’s rule.

Actions for negligence under General Obligations Law § 11-106

In 1996, the state legislature enacted General Obligations Law § 11-106, giving firefighters a cause of action in negligence for line of duty injuries, except against municipal employers and fellow workers. Now, an injured firefighter has two potential avenues for recovery:

  • GML § 205-a actions for the violation of a statute, regulation or rule
  • Common law negligence

An injured firefighter can even bring a negligence action when an individual’s negligence caused the fire. Meanwhile, a defendant may not seek to escape liability by arguing that a firefighter assumed the risk of his injury.

Today, the only remnant of the old “firefighter’s rule” is its application in cases where the injured firefighter or police officer sues his or her employer for negligence.  In negligence cases where the police or fire department is at fault, the responder must show that the performance of duties did not increase the risk of injury, but only furnished the occasion.

Take immediate steps to preserve your rights

Injured FDNY firefighters must fill out an accurate CD-72 specifying the negligent condition that caused the injury and the manner in which the injury occurred. Later, this will be an essential piece of evidence. After receiving medical care and documenting your injury with a doctor or hospital, consult an experienced attorney who has successfully managed firefighter cases.

Contact a leading NYC law firm for answers about responders’ rights

Considering the complexities of the law, it’s easy to be confused about your right to sue for line-of-duty injuries.  The situations under which emergency workers have recovered compensation are varied.  If you have suffered a line-of-duty injury, you should speak with an attorney to determine whether you have a right to compensation. Barasch & McGarry has the knowledge and experience to evaluate your case and give you clear answers. To schedule a free consultation, call us at 844.874.1564 or contact our office online.

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