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    Default Do Citizens Sue Fire Departments?

    Do citizens ever sue fire departments, in the way patients sue physicians for malpractice? In particular, do property owners ever try to take fire departments to court, to claim that firefighters didn't perform well enough or such, and thus greater damage occurred??

    I have never heard of such things, but it's a question that comes to mind from time to time, when I read forum and blog discussions about firefighting tactics. And when someone says "looks like they pushed the fire back in" or "they probably did more damage," the little lawyer in my head goes "yikes." (I decline to identify how many other little people might be in there, however...)

    Or are there overarching laws or statutes that keep firefighters from such suits? Just curious...

    mjl

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    Yes, sometimes citizens bring suit against the Fire Department.
    "This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?

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    From what I've heard it's a growing trend. Just like in the medical world, "they did the best they could" isn't always good enough any more.

    Check your insurance policy and see if you're covered for "errors and omissions."
    Opinions my own. Standard disclaimers apply.

    Everyone goes home. Safety begins with you.

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    It should happen more, but more so for the administration who cuts staffing, cuts corners on equipment, and does whatever else possible to take away the ability of the troops to fight.

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    They do. Like anything else, negligence on the part of the fire department that can cause harm can be actionable. Quick perusal of google news seems to indicate that gross incompetence - such as extremely late response times or brutally retarded fireground actions - are the most common reasons for the fire department being sued. I assume there is a different level of expectation for both from a rural volunteer department than a career urban one.

    http://www.bcbarristers.com/en-US/po...Your-Fire.aspx

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-s...-lawsuits.html

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    Tort Claims Acts (28 USC Section 2674) has basically repealed the old sovereign immunity that most government agencies had. This gave the public the ability to recover compensation for harm done by the government. Since this was national legislation it trumped the ability of the states to claim sovereign immunity.

    To receive compensation under tort claims a party must first file a claim with the government. If the claim is denied then the person can file a suit against the governmental agency.

    That said there is personal protection for firefighters operating on the job. Statutory immunity is designed to protect the department and individual firefighter against tort claims who is; a) working in an official capacity of the department, and b) operating within the policies and procedures of the department. There is also the 1997 Volunteer Protection Act which covers volunteer firefighters/EMS from tort claims.

    All this said, there are many examples of parties suing firefighters. Either they were operating outside of the law and the department's policies and procedures or a blood sucking lawyer has pushed the issue with a sympathetic judge and they go to court. If the department has a policy or procedure that goes against national best practices, this also opens up the department for law suits.

    Also, each state has their own law concerning statutory immunity. Each states law is worded differently and the coverage varies greatly.

    There is a great text named "Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services" by J. Curtis Varone.
    Last edited by FiremanLyman; 04-01-2011 at 12:24 PM.
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    So here is a scenerio, what if a 911 call was made for a wellbeing check and upon arrival you find a house with a car in the driveway and all of the doors/windows are locked and windows are covered. The bystanders stated that they know that a person lives here alone at this house. The bystanders state that no one is answering their phone when it is called. Bystanders stated that they have not heard from the resident for the past week. The only visual sign of a person inside the house is the car in the driveway. You decide to force entry through the front door, upon entry you find an empty house. You try to secure the door the best you can, that night one of the bystanders that was there earler that day that called you in the first place comes back and robs the house of its valuables. The person that lives there at that address comes back in a cab from a vacation trip via.an airplane. They find the house robbed and they find out that the fire department broke into the house a few days eariler and caused damage to their front door. They sue the FD for damaging their front door and as a result they were also robbed. Where do we draw the line?

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    Quote Originally Posted by FloridaFireEMT View Post
    Where do we draw the line?
    We transfer the responsibility to law enforcement. Let them bust down the door.

    And that's exactly what we do here, too.
    Opinions my own. Standard disclaimers apply.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tree68 View Post
    We transfer the responsibility to law enforcement. Let them bust down the door.

    And that's exactly what we do here, too.
    Here where I am from, 100% of the time the PD is incapable of forcing a door or window by themselves and the FD is the only one able to force entry into anything. The PD here rely on the FD.

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    Quote Originally Posted by FloridaFireEMT View Post
    Here where I am from, 100% of the time the PD is incapable of forcing a door or window by themselves and the FD is the only one able to force entry into anything. The PD here rely on the FD.
    Nonetheless, they can still take on the responsibility for the breach.
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    Quote Originally Posted by tree68 View Post
    Nonetheless, they can still take on the responsibility for the breach.
    Exactly. The fire dept. may breach the door, but under the authority of law enforcement. Let them do their job, we'll do ours.

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    Anytime we have to breach a house LE is on scene and they take responsibility for the entry.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rm1524 View Post
    Anytime we have to breach a house LE is on scene and they take responsibility for the entry.
    OH and also to re-secure the property.... we don't want to be tasked with that afterwards.
    I am now a past chief and the views, opinions, and comments are mine and mine alone. I do not speak for any department or in any official capacity. Although, they would be smart to listen to me.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ChiefKN View Post
    OH and also to re-secure the property.... we don't want to be tasked with that afterwards.
    We will assist them in securing the property. They still are the responsible party.

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    Quote Originally Posted by nameless View Post
    It should happen more, but more so for the administration who cuts staffing, cuts corners on equipment, and does whatever else possible to take away the ability of the troops to fight.
    Do you really think that the political administration of a city, town or county will accept the blame? They will BLAME US, THE FIREFIGHTERS and tuck it to us faster than a horny teenager trying to get laid on Prom night.....
    ‎"The education of a firefighter and the continued education of a firefighter is what makes "real" firefighters. Continuous skill development is the core of progressive firefighting. We learn by doing and doing it again and again, both on the training ground and the fireground."
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    Quote Originally Posted by DeputyChiefGonzo View Post
    Do you really think that the political administration of a city, town or county will accept the blame? They will BLAME US, THE FIREFIGHTERS and tuck it to us faster than a horny teenager trying to get laid on Prom night.....
    Indeed - it'll be "the firefighters didn't save my house," not "the firefighters couldn't save my house because the municipality reduced their strength to the point that they are no longer effective..."
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    Here's my take on this. If you have a fire or other emergency that person should look into if the department responded within the national standards time allowed and if they also met the national standards for manning and other areas. If they showed up in 3 minutes after the alarm came in but only had 2 firefighters on the rig this is unacceptable and since there is a national standard that says there should be at least 4 firefighters on an apparatus the fire department should be open to be sued because they are not complying with a national standard. JMO

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    It's no different that the actions of a ff responding to a call. What if the ff (volly for the sake of argument) is drunk and get into a wreck. He tells the cops he was responding to a call. Guess who is enjoined in the lawsuit?
    You may get out under summary judgement ( for example) you have an SOG that any member who is drunk will not be allowed on the FG or apparatus. There for, the member was not capable of representing the dept and was on his.her own. You still have to pay the lawyer.
    Personally I think the behavior of the FD would have to be shockingly egregious in order to be sued but that's just me.

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    Quote Originally Posted by FloridaFireEMT View Post
    So here is a scenerio, what if a 911 call was made for a wellbeing check and upon arrival you find a house with a car in the driveway and all of the doors/windows are locked and windows are covered. The bystanders stated that they know that a person lives here alone at this house. The bystanders state that no one is answering their phone when it is called. Bystanders stated that they have not heard from the resident for the past week. The only visual sign of a person inside the house is the car in the driveway. You decide to force entry through the front door, upon entry you find an empty house. You try to secure the door the best you can, that night one of the bystanders that was there earler that day that called you in the first place comes back and robs the house of its valuables. The person that lives there at that address comes back in a cab from a vacation trip via.an airplane. They find the house robbed and they find out that the fire department broke into the house a few days eariler and caused damage to their front door. They sue the FD for damaging their front door and as a result they were also robbed. Where do we draw the line?
    Dear god. Did you stay up late working on this?

    You, or a department can be sued for anything. ANYTHING.

    Chief Officers and Insurance were made for just this situation.

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    I think its foolish to operate with the worry of being sued.

    Worry about having and following good standards and practices that are based on state and federal laws and industry standards.

    That is your best protection against losing a lawsuit.
    I am now a past chief and the views, opinions, and comments are mine and mine alone. I do not speak for any department or in any official capacity. Although, they would be smart to listen to me.

    "The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on the list."

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    Quote Originally Posted by LVFD301 View Post
    You, or a department can be sued for anything. ANYTHING.
    Indeed. I recall hearing of a woman who sued a family because the kids were playing basketball in their own back yard. Worse, she won...

    Never mind that she apparently made her living suing people (as the plaintiff, not as a lawyer) - you can be sued for taking too long to arrive on a scene at the same time you're being sued for using your siren "too much." (Rhetorical point - don't bother arguing it.)

    In other words,
    Quote Originally Posted by LVFD301 View Post
    ANYTHING.
    Opinions my own. Standard disclaimers apply.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TRUCK61 View Post
    Here's my take on this. If you have a fire or other emergency that person should look into if the department responded within the national standards time allowed and if they also met the national standards for manning and other areas. If they showed up in 3 minutes after the alarm came in but only had 2 firefighters on the rig this is unacceptable and since there is a national standard that says there should be at least 4 firefighters on an apparatus the fire department should be open to be sued because they are not complying with a national standard. JMO

    Ha, I know of a department that ONLY has 2 FFs on every apparatus, including the tower truck every day. And the Cheif thinks anymore than 2 guys is a waste. They haven't been sued yet.

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    Quote Originally Posted by FloridaFireEMT View Post
    Ha, I know of a department that ONLY has 2 FFs on every apparatus, including the tower truck every day. And the Cheif thinks anymore than 2 guys is a waste. They haven't been sued yet.
    Possible way I see for a city to be sued for staffing is that the tax payers have voted to increase their taxes for better service, the tax level goes up, but no new units/personnel/stations are created. Know a place where that scenario is unraveling.
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    One of my instructors back in the early 80's summed up the legal aspects very eloquently; " I could sue this whole class for gross ugliness and I would win at least half of them."

    I was deposed last summer for a civil suit. Failure to provide prompt medical care. We were on scene in less than 60 seconds. Not one but two ALS ambulances within 3 minutes. Some lawyer still thought it was worth a shot at $38 million.

    Good documentation makes things so much easier.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JoeMZ191 View Post
    One of my instructors back in the early 80's summed up the legal aspects very eloquently; " I could sue this whole class for gross ugliness and I would win at least half of them."

    I was deposed last summer for a civil suit. Failure to provide prompt medical care. We were on scene in less than 60 seconds. Not one but two ALS ambulances within 3 minutes. Some lawyer still thought it was worth a shot at $38 million.

    Good documentation makes things so much easier.
    Amen, Brother.

    I have been deposed twice... once in a wrongful death inquest, the other in a fire investigation/lawsuit.

    One doesn't need to write the equivalent of Doestovesky's "War and Peace" as a narrative, but it has to be more detailed than a simple one or two line paragraph
    Last edited by DeputyChiefGonzo; 04-02-2011 at 08:05 AM.
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