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Maryland Casualty Co. v. Heiot

Decided: February 4, 1988.

MARYLAND CASUALTY CO., PLAINTIFF,
v.
ROSE HEIOT, DEFENDANT



Eichen, J.s.c.

Eichen

[224 NJSuper Page 442] This matter is before the court on defendant's motion for summary judgment dismissing plaintiff's*fn1 complaint on the

ground that the action is barred by the "fireman's rule." Although no affidavits were filed in support or in opposition to the motion, the pertinent facts recited in the briefs do not appear to be in dispute.

On the afternoon of February 4, 1985, a firefighter employed by the Cliffside Park Fire Department, accompanied by a police officer and ambulance, responded to a first aid call at the home of defendant. Apparently defendant had fallen from her walker and required emergency medical attention. The firefighter entered the house up the front steps to evaluate the situation. Upon determining what would be needed from the ambulance, he exited the house to retrieve the required supplies and slipped on some ice which had accumulated on the edge of the front steps.

The "fireman's rule" bars suit against a landowner for an act of ordinary negligence which creates the occasion for the presence of a firefighter or a police officer at the place where he is injured. Berko v. Freda, 93 N.J. 81 (1983); Krauth v. Geller, 31 N.J. 270 (1960). "Although there is virtual unanimity with respect to non-liability for negligence as to the creation of fire, there is appreciable authority which would impose liability upon the land occupier for negligence with respect to conditions creating undue risks of injury beyond those inevitably involved in firefighting." Krauth, supra, 31 N.J. at 274. This principle was restated by our Supreme Court in Berko, 23 years later: "Of course, negligently-created risks that did not create the occasion for the firefighter's presence will give rise to a cause of action against the homeowner." 93 N.J. at 88.

In Trainor v. Santana, 86 N.J. 403, 407 (1981), the Supreme Court recognized an exception to the "fireman's rule", namely that "additional and subsequent acts of negligence which directly caused the officer's injuries" can be the basis for recovery.

Since Trainor numerous cases have enunciated this principle. See, McCarthy v. Ehrens, 212 N.J. Super. 249, 255 (Law Div.1986); Entwistle v. Draves, 194 N.J. Super. 571, 575-576 (Law Div.1984). Stated another way, "independent and intervening negligent acts that injure the safety officer on duty are not insulated." McCarthy, supra, 212 N.J. Super. at 255; Wietecha v. Peoronard, 102 N.J. 591, 595 (1986); Mahoney v. Carus, 102 N.J. 564, 582 (1986).

Based on the foregoing exceptions, plaintiff argues that the icy conditions existing at the premises of defendant which resulted in the firefighter's injuries constitute "independent and intervening negligent acts" and, therefore, the plaintiff is entitled to recover from defendant. This court does not agree.

In New Jersey the theory underlying the "fireman's rule" is stated in terms of "assumption of risk." Krauth, supra, 31 N.J. at 273; Trainor, supra, 86 N.J. at 406. In Krauth, supra, 31 N.J. at 273, the Supreme Court recognized the rationale of insulating a landowner from liability under circumstances where it is reasonable to expect the firefighter to assume the risk of performing his duties. However, the Supreme Court also recognized that "a fireman assumes only those hazards which are known or can reasonably be anticipated at the site of the fire." Mahoney, supra, 102 N.J. at 583, quoting from Lipson v. Superior Court, 31 Cal. 3d 362, 371, 182 Cal.Rptr. 629, 635, 644 P. 2d 822, 828 (Sup.Ct.1982).

Ordinarily a firefighter or police officer is summoned in circumstances of emergency where the landowner has not had time to prepare the premises for his arrival. This is especially so during winter months where unsafe conditions have been created by accumulations of snow and ice. A firefighter responding to such an emergency call has no reasonable expectation that the property has been made safe for his arrival. One engaged in this occupation does not determine whether to respond to an emergency call based on weather conditions. This is because a firefighter is likely to enter at unforeseeable

times under emergent circumstances. In other words weather is one of the "inherent risks of (this) calling." Cf. ...


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