For affirmance -- Chief Justice Wilentz, and Justices Clifford, Pollock, O'Hern, Garibaldi and Stein. Dissenting in part -- Justice Handler. Handler, J., dissenting in part.
[102 NJ Page 593] This case was originally argued with Mahoney v. Carus Chem. Co., 102 N.J. 564 (1986), also decided today. Its tragic circumstances illustrate the difficulties of applying the "fireman's rule" to complex factual situations. We believe, however,
that the lower courts correctly applied the rule to the police officers investigating accidents here, and thus, we affirm the order of summary judgment entered below.
This suit arises out of a multi-car accident that occurred on Route 495 in the Township of North Bergen during the late evening and early morning hours of August 27 and 28, 1981. The roadway is a heavily traveled, divided highway leading from the New Jersey Turnpike to the Lincoln Tunnel entrance. For purposes of this appeal, it is necessary only to set forth the facts that establish the sequence of the accident. Reference to the specifics of each accident, although pertinent to individual liability, is not essential to the subject matter of this appeal. For ease of analysis, we shall refer to the different cars involved by reference to their order of involvement in the accident:*fn1
1. There was a minor accident between Car 1 and Car 2. Instead of pulling over to the right, the operators stopped in the inside or fast lane of Rt. 495 to exchange information.
2. Car 3 then collided with the rear of Car 1. (After the first accident, Car 2 had pulled to the left, ahead of Car 1.)
3. Patrolman 1 arrived at the scene to investigate the accident and stopped his patrol car behind Car 3 with emergency lights and flashers on. He commenced investigating the accident.
4. Car 4 then struck Patrol Car 1 in the rear.
5. Patrolman 1 went to Car 4 to investigate.
6. Patrolman 2 arrived at the scene to investigate the accident involving Patrol Car 1. He stopped his patrol car behind Car 4, again with flashers and blinkers on. Patrolman 2 stood behind Car 4.
7. Car 5 then collided with the rear of Patrol Car 2, causing it to strike and injure Patrolman 2. The impact drove Patrol Car 2 into Car 4, which in turn struck Patrolman 1.
The core of the "fireman's rule" is that a citizen's ordinary negligence that occasioned the presence of the public safety officer shall not give rise to liability in damages for the injuries sustained by the officer in the course of the response to duty. Mahoney v. Carus Chem. Co., supra, 102 N.J. at 572. The corollary of the rule is that ...