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The fireman's rule (firefighter's rule) also known as the professional rescuers rule is a common law or statutory restriction on tort actions by public safety officials. In general, the fireman's rule bars lawsuits by police officers, firefighters, and in some jurisdictions all professional rescuers from collecting on damages that occur in the course of their duties even in cases of clear negligence by other parties.
At the most basic, the fireman's rule is based on the notion that public safety officers willingly assume the risks inherent in their duties. Since the very purpose of public safety officers is to confront danger, the public is not liable for injuries incurred while carrying out that function. While the rule is named after the risks and actions by firemen, the relationship between danger and duties is similar in all public safety officers, and other professional rescuers.
The fireman's rule has been heavily criticized for preventing police officers from suing criminals who intentionally lead them on high-speed car chases. In response to one such case, the California State Legislature enacted California Civil Code Section 1714.9 in 1982, which overrides the fireman's rule where the tortious conduct occurred after the defendant knew or should have known of the plaintiff's presence.
In certain states, such as Pennsylvania, the courts have not always applied the fireman's rule. In 1995, The Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that in regards to landowners, firefighters are viewed as "licensees," and are therefore owed the same duty of care that any citizen who is permitted to be on the property would receive. In earlier decisions, such as MULL v. KERSTETTER 373 Pa.Super. 228 (1988), in which a volunteer firefighter was injured after falling into an unmarked and unprotected window well, the court ruled that a police officer entering land in his or her official capacity and in response to a call for assistance is generally considered a licensee. Therefore the landowner is responsible for warning the licensee of any dangerous hidden conditions on the premises.
- Kennerly, Maxwell. "Fireman's Rule". Litigation and Trial Law Blog. Retrieved 25 May 2012.