SW Legal studies in Business

Firefighter’s Rule Restricted in New Mexico for Reckless Acts

New Mexico high court held that firefighters who witnessed twelve people burned to death by a natural gas pipeline explosion could sue the pipeline company for intentional infliction of emotional distress due to reckless failure to maintain the pipeline safely.

Topic Torts
Key Words

Emotional Distress; Firefighter’s Rule

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

A high-pressure natural gas pipeline operated by El Paso Natural Gas ruptured near the Pecos River. Members of a family were camped near the pipeline. Twelve family members died at the site or died later from severe burns. Members of local fire departments that responded to the scene sued El Paso for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress from witnessing the injuries suffered by the burn victims. The trial court dismissed the suit under the firefighter’s rule. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the firefighters could sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress. El Paso appealed.


Affirmed and remanded to trial court. Traditionally, under the firefighter’s rule, the party creating a peril owes a professional rescuer no duty if the rescuer’s injury was derived from the negligent or reckless conduct that caused the peril. This situation exceeded the normal scope of distress inherent in firefighting. The gas company failed to maintain the pipeline properly and knew that the area around the pipeline was used for camping. Further, the company failed to minimize the hazards to life by communicating such information to local firefighters. The company showed recklessness, meaning the intentional doing of an act with utter indifference to the consequences. Henceforth, in New Mexico the firefighter’s rule does not block suits for intentional infliction of emotional distress or other injuries suffered due to recklessness.


Baldonado v. El Paso Natural Gas Co., ---P.3d--- (2008 WL 4864231, Sup. Ct., N.Mex., 2008)

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