South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Police Officer Might Recover for Injuries Suffered Responding to Call
Description New Jersey high court held that the state legislature gave police and other emergency personnel the right to sue when they suffer injuries in the line of duty, when the injuries are due to the negligence or willful misconduct of another.
Topic Torts
Key Words Negligence; Police; Emergency; Injury; Rescue Doctrine; Firefighters’ Rule
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Ruiz, a uniformed police officer, was called to the scene of a large fight at Silvana’s Bar. When Ruiz arrived, he was attacked by several patrons and suffered head and neck injuries. He sued Silvana’s and its owners for negligence for failure to provide adequate security. Defendants moved to dismiss the suit, contending it was barred by the firefighters’ rule. The trial court dismissed the suit. Ruiz appealed and the court of appeals reversed; defendants appealed.
Decision

Affirmed and remanded. At common law, the rescue doctrine provides a source of recovery to one who is injured while undertaking the rescue of another who has negligently placed himself in peril. The firefighter’s rule is an exception to the rescue doctrine. It prevents a firefighter from recovering in tort from a landowner who was negligent in starting or failing to prevent a fire. The rule was extended to police officers, holding it unfair to compensate firefighters and police for injuries sustained for facing dangers they were paid to confront. The rule has been limited in some states in recent years. The New Jersey legislature enacted a statute that holds that firefighters, police and others who suffer injury in the lawful discharge of official duties may sue in tort when the injury is the result of the neglect, willful omission, or willful conduct of any person or entity. Applying the statute to this case means that Ruiz has a cause of action that may be heard; the firefighers’ rule does not apply. If it is found that the owners of Silvana’s were negligent or willful in the failure to provide proper security, then Ruiz could recover for his injuries.

Citation Ruiz v. Mero, 917 A.2d 239 (Sup. Ct., N.J., 2007)

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