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Entwistle v. Draves

Decided: January 26, 1984.


Van Tassel, J.s.c.

Van Tassel

Plaintiffs James Entwistle, Francis Papapietro, John Lensi and Kevin Osborne, police officers injured after responding to a reported disturbance in progress at North Forty Tavern in New Milford, New Jersey, instituted suit against the bar owner and property owner alleging that defendants acted in a careless, reckless and negligent manner in failing to prevent the disturbance and failing to prevent a nuisance and subsequent dangerous condition.

Summary judgment was initially granted by the court on July 21, 1983 in favor of defendants as to their causes of action alleging ordinary negligence. Summary judgment was denied as to any causes of action based upon more than ordinary negligence. Plaintiffs now move to amend their complaint to allege wilful and wanton misconduct and gross negligence. Defendants seek summary judgment by cross motion.

To put the issues in proper perspective, a brief review of the allegations set forth in plaintiffs' proposed amended complaint is necessary. The facts are not disputed. Plaintiff police officers responded to a call for help made by the bar employees

to police headquarters advising of an unruly crowd in the parking area of the bar. At least six or seven officers responded from New Milford and later police from Bergenfield and other towns assisted. Plaintiff Entwistle was struck in the head by beer bottles, mugs and perhaps even a two-by-four. He was badly injured and is now retired on disability from the police department. Plaintiff Papapietro was struck in the head by beer bottles and fists, plaintiff Lensi suffered serious head injuries and plaintiff Osborne sustained an eye injury.

The "fireman's rule" governs the circumstances of this case. This rule provides that negligence in causing a fire furnishes no basis for liability to a professional fireman injured fighting the fire. The New Jersey Supreme Court adopted the so-called fireman's rule with respect to tort cases in Krauth v. Geller, 31 N.J. 270 (1960). The Court extended and applied the rule to policemen in Berko v. Freda, 93 N.J. 81 (1983).*fn1

The Court used the term "ordinary negligence" in its ruling in Berko, id. at 82. The fireman's rule bars suit for an act of ordinary negligence which creates the occasion for the presence of a fire fighter or a police officer at the place where he is injured. There has long been a distinction between the negligence which brings a fire fighter or a policeman to the scene and subsequent acts of misconduct which injure him. Krueger v. City of Anaheim, 130 Cal.App. 3d 166, 181 Cal.Rptr. 631 (Ct.App.1982); Walters v. Sloan, 20 Cal. 3d 199, 142 Cal.Rptr. 152, 571 P. 2d 609 (Sup.Ct.1977).

Additional and subsequent acts of negligence which directly cause the officer's injuries can be the basis for recovery

under the laws of the State of New Jersey. Trainor v. Santana, 86 N.J. 403, 407 (1981).

By amending their complaint to allege gross negligence, plaintiffs seek to protect their cause of action from application of the fireman's rule. The issue is whether the application of the fireman's rule depends at all on the character of the alleged negligence. If the rule applies where defendant is guilty of ordinary negligence, does it also apply when he is guilty of gross negligence or wanton and wilful misconduct? This court concludes that the grade of negligence is immaterial so long as defendant's act created a condition or hazard with which policemen are employed to cope. The rationale of the fireman's rule is that one who knowingly and voluntarily confronts a hazard he is employed to accept cannot recover for injuries sustained thereby. Public policy considerations further support this conclusion. The rule precludes a tort recovery by firemen or policemen who are presumably compensated for the potential dangers they may encounter. Furthermore, this court notes that added compensation such as special salary, retirement and disability benefits is not limited to injury from negligent conduct but extends to all types of conduct resulting in injuries. Hubbard v. Boelt, 28 Cal. 3d 480, 169 Cal.Rptr. 706, 620 P. 2d 156 (Sup.Ct.1980); see Berko v. Freda, supra, at 86, n. 1.

In Hubbard, the California Supreme Court concluded that the fireman's rule extends to reckless conduct and wilful and wanton misconduct as well as to ordinary negligence. Hubbard, supra at 152. Hubbard thus reaffirmed the ruling of the California Appellate Division in Holden v. Chunestudey, 101 Cal.App. 3d 959, 161 Cal.Rptr. 925 (Ct.App.1980). In Holden, a patrolman was summoned to the scene of a fatal accident apparently ...

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