SW Legal studies in Business

Firemanís Rule Does Not Apply to Defective Product; Huge Damage Award Upheld
Description

Appeals court held that when the death of a fireman is attributed to defective equipment he was using that contributed to his death, the fireman’s rule that there is no liability for the party who created a dangerous situation that required a response by a fireman does not apply.

Topic Torts
Key Words

Product Liability; Fireman’s Rule; Damages

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

Martin, a firefighter, died while trying to rescue another firefighter who was lost inside a burning building. Martin was wearing a breathing system that failed to function properly; as a result he died of smoke inhalation. His heirs sued the maker of the breathing system for product defect. The jury awarded $12 million in compensatory damages and $15 million in punitive damages. The defendant appealed, contending the award was excessive and that the “fireman’s rule” should preclude liability.

Decision

Affirmed. This case was properly put to the jury for determination. Whether a valve on a breathing mask became stuck, and if it was an unreasonably dangerous question, was for the jury to determine given the evidence. The “fireman’s rule” states that a fireman who is brought in contact with an emergency because of his status as a fireman, and who is injured while performing his duties, may not recover against the person whose ordinary negligence created the emergency. That rule does not apply here, where product defect is the issue. Martin may well have lived had his breathing equipment worked properly. The damage awards were not so excessive as to require the courts to amend the jury verdict.

Citation

Martin v. Survivair Respirators, Inc., ---S.W.3d--- (2009 WL 2366129, Ct. App., Mo., 2009)

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