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Vogel v. Skobo

Decided: July 28, 1992.

THOMAS VOGEL AND LOUISE VOGEL, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
LYNETTE M. SKOBO AND RICHARD SKOBO, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



On appeal from the Superior Court, Law Division, Ocean County.

Havey and Stern. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Havey, J.A.D.

Havey

The opinion of the court was delivered by

HAVEY, J.A.D.

Plaintiffs appeal from an order for summary judgment dismissing their personal injury action against defendants. Plaintiff Thomas Vogel, a police officer, was struck by a vehicle operated by defendant Lynette M. Skobo while he was chasing a speeding motorcycle.*fn1 In granting summary judgment, the trial Judge concluded that the "fireman's rule" barred recovery

because plaintiff, as a police officer, had assumed the risks inherent in the high-speed chase. We disagree. We hold that defendant's negligence was an independent and intervening act which is not insulated by the "fireman's rule." We therefore reverse and remand for further proceedings.

Plaintiff is a Stafford Township police officer. While on duty monitoring a radar detection device, he observed a motorcycle exceeding the speed limit. He thereupon engaged his emergency lights and siren on his motorcycle and pursued the speeding motorcycle in a westerly direction on Jane Drive in Stafford Township. Just as plaintiff was passing defendant's vehicle, which was also proceeding westerly on Jane Drive, defendant made a quick left turn and struck plaintiff's motorcycle. Plaintiff sustained multiple injuries as a result of the collision.

In Krauth v. Israel Geller & Buckingham Homes, Inc., 31 N.J. 270, 273-74, 157 A.2d 129 (1960), our Supreme Court adopted the "fireman's rule" which holds that because a firefighter's business is to deal with hazards incident to fighting fires, he "cannot complain of negligence in the creation of the very occasion for his engagement." The rule was extended to police officers in Berko v. Freda, 93 N.J. 81, 459 A.2d 663 (1983). The underlying policy of the fireman's rule is that the firefighter or police officer assumes the risk attendant to the performance of his or her public duty "for which he [or she] is trained and paid." Krauth, 31 N.J. at 274, 157 A.2d 129. The rationale of the rule is that there is no duty owed to the officer because he or she assumes the risks attendant to the officer's duties. Thus, "in the final analysis the policy decision is that it would be too burdensome to charge all who carelessly cause or fail to prevent fires with the injuries suffered by the expert retained with public funds to deal with those inevitable, although negligently created, occurrences." Id. Moreover, there is "more than mere dollars-and-cents considerations underpinning the fundamental Justice of the 'fireman's rule.'" Berko, 93 N.J. at 88, 459 A.2d 663. A citizen should not be exposed to

the risk of a civil judgment against him or her "for negligent acts that occasion the presence of a firefighter at the scene of a carelessly-set fire or of a police officer at a disturbance or unlawful incident resulting from negligent conduct." Id. at 88-89, 459 A.2d 663.

Our Supreme Court recently extended the fireman's rule in Rosa v. Dunkin' Donuts of Passaic, 122 N.J. 66, 583 A.2d 1129 (1991). There, a policeman responded to an emergency medical assistance call from a Dunkin' Donuts store. Id. at 69, 583 A.2d 1129. While carrying an unconscious employee to a police ambulance, plaintiff slipped on a white powdery substance on the kitchen floor. The Court held that the policies and goals of the fireman's rule that bar a public safety officer from recovering for injuries caused by ordinary acts of negligence that occasioned the officer's presence on the premises, are "equally applicable to bar liability for injuries that arise from an act of ordinary negligence posing a hazard that is incidental to and inherent in the performance of the officer's duties." Id. at 76, 583 A.2d 1129.

Citing the above-quoted language in Rosa, the trial Judge here found that the fireman's rule "is geared to this type of situation" because it is "foreseeable that this event would occur. It is within the realm and risk that is inherent when an ...


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