Injured North Dakota Firefighter Suing Land Owner

WILTON, N.D. - A firefighter who was severely burned fighting a grass fire near here is suing the landowner, claiming negligence.

Mark Keller, who also is a Burleigh County sheriff's deputy, was one of three firefighters injured when they were surrounded by fire and their truck stalled while they were battling a grass fire on April 8 north of Bismarck.

Keller spent two months at a Minneapolis-area hospital after suffering second- and third-degree burns while fighting the fire.

His attorney, Tom Dickson of Bismarck, said Keller's injuries are because of the landowner's negligence. He said the landowner is a North Dakota-owned corporation.

He said a worker started the fire on the farm land to burn tree stumps. Dickson said Keller's medical bills are around $500,000.

A South Central District Court judge will decide within 90 days if the case will go to a jury. Dickson said the lawsuit was filed this week.

A so-called "Fireman's Rule" precludes firefighters and police officers injured on private property from suing the property owners for negligence.

"It's really an archaic 19th century rule of law," Dickson said. The rule has been challenged in several states, he said.

"It's an immunity defense," Dickson said. "It's never been addressed in the Supreme Court here."