Idaho Supreme Court Narrows ‘Firefighter’s Rule’

The strength of the so-called “firefighter’s rule” across the country is definitely waning. The firefighter’s rule bars lawsuits by public safety employees for injuries sustained as a result of negligence which created the need for their presence at a particular scene. Though the firefighter’s rule once existed in virtually every state that had considered the issue, several courts (including those in Oregon and Colorado) have outright rejected it, and many state legislatures have passed statutes that repealed the rule.

A recent case in Idaho illustrates a third trend – narrowing the firefighter’s rule to the point where it practically does not exist. The case involved Charles Ruffing, a Boise firefighter. Boise firefighters work alongside Ada County Paramedics. On the day in question, Ruffing worked in Boise’s Fire Station 3 with Barbara McPherson, an employee of Ada County Paramedics.

In keeping with the usual practice for medical calls, both the firefighters at Station 3 and a paramedic team responded to a call from Chili’s Restaurant. After medical assistance was rendered to the patient, the firefighters loaded her into the paramedics’ ambulance. While she was backing the ambulance, McPherson hit a parked car. Ruffing’s leg became pinned between the ambulance and the parked car, causing him serious injuries.

Ruffing filed a lawsuit against Ada County Paramedics, which responded by raising the firefighter’s rule as a defense. The lawsuit eventually ended up before the Idaho Supreme Court, which ruled that the firefighter’s rule did not apply to bar Ruffing’s lawsuit.

As the Court concluded, under the firefighter’s rule, “neither a firefighter nor a police officer may recover in tort when his injuries are caused by the same conduct that required his official presence. Although the EMT units and firefighters were clearly involved in a joint safety operation, the particular conduct that caused Ruffing’s injury falls outside the ambit of the rule. It was a call to respond jointly to a medical emergency which required both Ruffing’s and McPherson’s presence on the scene. McPherson’s backing of the ambulance, which caused Ruffng’s injury, was not the same conduct that required his official presence. In order for the firefighter’s rule to reach the circumstances here, we would have to expand the scope of the rule. Therefore, we find the firefighter’s rule does not bar Ruffing’s claim.”

Ruffing v. Ada County Paramedics, 2008 WL 2357686 (Idaho 2008).

This article appears in the September 2008 issue