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  • Fire Department Lawsuits

    It's seems that there is a new phenomenon being created in the city I work for. It seems that there are more and more lawsuits being filed against the Fire Department in the last 3-4 years. Most are frivolous in nature but are still draining money from city resources to fight these suits (the city has lousey lawyers to boot). I will say some have had some validity (non-working aerial ladders and pumpers) and others are way out of line (they didn't fight the fire the way I think they should have ect ect). This started with one lawyer filing 18 lawsuits and now it seems that the other leeches are following suit. Are there any other departments out there seeing this happening in their areas?
    Last edited by FireCapt1951retired; 09-27-2003, 10:58 PM.

  • #2
    Not yet.

    Just remember they graduate huindreds if not thousands of new lawyers every year, and they've got to find something to do.
    Steve Gallagher
    "I don't apologize for anything. When I make a mistake, I take the blame and go on from there." - Woody Hayes


    • #3
      Well, I Tried.......

      Quite a while back, in response to a post on a thread here, I said that I thought there should be a law that would require a Fire Department or it's member, (employee or Volunteer) to first be found guilty of Gross Negligence, before a civil suit could be brought to the courts. I was soundly lashed by all the FORUMS firehouse lawyers, but I still think there should be a broader immunity for public safety people across the board. Stay Safe....
      Never use Force! Get a Bigger Hammer.
      In memory of
      Chief Earle W. Woods, 1912 - 1997
      Asst. Chief John R. Woods Sr. 1937 - 2006

      IACOJ Budget Analyst

      I Refuse to be a Spectator. If I come to the Game, I'm Playing.



      • #4
        Our nearby MA Company is involved in lawsuits quite frequently but there are dozens of reasons for this...

        #1... lack of certain responses or turning down calls

        #2... lack of proper training ( they only train once a month)

        and #3... this area is full of welfare type people so they try to sue so they do not have to pay the response bill

        Number 3 is the MOST called upon around here beacuse it is...a welfare community and most lawyers will try to find anything they can to "make the buck" and also most dont charge "upfront"

        As for us...we have had no lawsuits whether frivilous or not...to date but yet...im very strict on "policy"

        Donna C
        Fire Chief
        Bridge Canyon VFD


        • #5
          One thing I forgot to mention in the prior post was....Chief Woods...Im with ya all the way on that statement of actually being found guilty before any lawsuits can occur....whether firehouse lawyers like it or not! LOL

          I had a plan awhile back of maybe the govt banning all lawsuits on emergency response personnell including police,etc...and why you might ask??....simply because I dont believe we should be sued for just trying to help someone out(this is meant for those screwed up frivilous suits that just waste tax payers money) BUT on the other side of the token....negligence would be a whole different story.

          Donna C
          Fire Chief
          Bridge Canyon VFD


          • #6
            Don't underestimate the role that the insurance cos. play in this.

            1. I file a lawsuit asking for $1 million
            2. The FD repotrs the suit to it's insurance carrier
            3. Insurance carrier figures it will cost $100,000 to defend the suit, with no guarantee of winning
            4. The insurance co. offers the plaintiff $100,000 to settle the suit prior to trial.
            5. Plaintiff accepts big pay day, inurance co. thinks it saved itself $1 million
            6. No, it doesn't matter what the FD says, if the insurance co. wants to settle, they are going to settle, regardless of whether the FD was right or wrong.


            • #7

              Your right, the thing here is that the City of Detroit is self-insured (we won't go into that) and is pretty easy pickings because of the poor legal department they have. They basically pay off for the same reasons the insurance companies do. Most of these suits have arisen from non-operational equipment, response times by apparatus while first responding units were out of service or at a scene, we didn't fight the fire the correct way (in their opinion) etc. Actually the lawsuits on the non-operational equipment made the city upgrade our fleet. We now have almost every front line rig no older than 5 years. Another interesting thing going on now is that a community block group is thinking about suing the city over closing companies on a daily basis because while a company was closed, a few residents house's suffered severe exposure damage due to the length of time it took the responding replacment apparatus to get on scene (I feel they had a legitimate complaint in this instance). There are still many frivolous B.S. lawsuits flying around here though.


              • #8
                Case in point. Denville, NJ. Right in George's backyard.

                Six fire departments sued over response to Interstate 80 blaze
                The Associated Press

                MORRISTOWN, N.J.

                Six fire departments that responded to a massive gasoline fire on Interstate 80 two years ago are now being sued by two companies who are also facing lawsuits related to the blaze.

                The lawsuit was filed this week by Flexi-Van Leasing Inc., which owns the chassis of a tractor-trailer involved in the crash that sparked the blaze, and Howland Hook Container Terminal, which leased the chassis.

                "It's like no good deed goes unpunished. I think the claim is specious," John Dorsey, a lawyer for a joint insurance fund that covers eight of the 12 defendants, told the Daily Record of Parsippany for Thursday's editions. The fire departments are all in Morris County.

                The June 22, 2001, fire began when a fuel tanker truck and two tractor-trailers were involved in a collision on a stretch of the highway in Denville. According to the suit, firefighters initially doused the flames with water instead of foam, causing it to intensify.

                The flames then spread down the highway to a bridge, where they caused extensive damage to the bridge abutment and highway. The suit accuses the firefighters of gross negligence, claiming they should have known that gasoline would float on the surface of the water and that it eventually would cause the fire to spread.

                The suit names the fire departments in Boonton Township, Denville, Parsippany, Rockaway Township and Rockaway, their respective municipalities, the Picatinny Arsenal Fire Department and the arsenal itself as third-party defendants.

                The blaze shut down a four-mile stretch of Interstate 80 - between Exit 38 in Denville and Exit 42 in Parsippany - for several days while the bridge was replaced by a temporary structure. The old span was later demolished and a permanent replacement bridge was completed about four months later.

                The entire project cost the state more than $6 million, and it has since filed suits against three truck drivers and the companies that employed them, claiming driver negligence and tailgating caused the crash.
                Proudly serving as the IACOJ Minister of Information & Propoganda!
                Be Safe! Lookouts-Awareness-Communications-Escape Routes-Safety Zones

                *Gathering Crust Since 1968*
                On the web at www.section2wildfire.com


                • #9
                  On the State level, there is "Sovereign Immunity" -- in my State, the legislature partially waives that be allowing suits agains the state provided a standing commission approves them first, which pretty much takes out the frivolous ones. So agencies like the State Police are protected.

                  It doesn't extend to municipalities & their agencies, which can be sued directly.

                  Also, certain lawsuits also need state permission (*in* my state...this varies!). You can't sue an EMT for EMT related actions in CT unless the State Office of Emergency Medical Services approves it first -- basically if the EMT followed protocol, OEMS will quash the case before it's filed.
                  IACOJ Canine Officer


                  • #10
                    ...now i really LIKE that idea DALMATION....Our State should do that too.

                    Donna C
                    Fire Chief
                    Bridge Canyon VFD


                    • #11
                      Re: Well, I Tried.......

                      Originally posted by hwoods
                      Quite a while back, in response to a post on a thread here, I said that I thought there should be a law that would require a Fire Department or it's member, (employee or Volunteer) to first be found guilty of Gross Negligence, before a civil suit could be brought to the courts. I was soundly lashed by all the FORUMS firehouse lawyers, but I still think there should be a broader immunity for public safety people across the board. Stay Safe....
                      We have that here in NC Chief:

                      (b) A rural fire department or a fireman who belongs to the
                      department shall not be liable for damages to persons or
                      property alleged to have been sustained and alleged to have
                      occurred by reason of an act or omission, either of the rural
                      fire department or of the fireman at the scene of a reported
                      fire, when that act or omission relates to the suppression of
                      the reported fire or to the direction of traffic or enforcement
                      of traffic laws or ordinances at the scene of or in connection
                      with a fire, accident, or other hazard by the department or the
                      fireman unless it is established that the damage occurred
                      because of gross negligence, wanton conduct or intentional
                      wrongdoing of the rural fire department or the fireman.
                      Its part of a much broader statute but thats the key element.


                      • #12
                        If you think that you should be found "guilty" of "gross negligence" BEFORE a civil suity can be filed, you simply do not understand the legal process. The finding of negligence would occur during the court proceedings. That is what the court proceedings are all about.

                        How about this case:

                        Court allows suit against police for delay in rescue

                        Palisades Parkway officers not immune in teen's fatal fall from cliff

                        Thursday, October 02, 2003

                        BY ROBERT SCHWANEBERG
                        Star-Ledger Staff

                        When 19-year-old Andrew Aversano toppled backward off a 300-foot cliff, the Palisades Interstate Parkway Police assumed no one could survive such a fall. So instead of launching an immediate rescue, they set out to recover his body.

                        But when they reached him three hours later, Aversano was still breathing. The police immediately summoned the Closter Rescue Squad, which arrived in about six minutes and began setting up equipment to rappel down the cliff.

                        It was too late. Aversano stopped breathing before the rescuers reached him and was pronounced dead when brought to the top of the cliff.

                        Yesterday, a state appeals court ruled Aversano's family can sue the Parkway police on the theory that the officers' three-hour delay in summoning the rescue squad "caused Andrew a significant lost chance of survival."

                        The court, in a divided ruling, said that while police are immune from lawsuits when properly carrying out their duties, "the very essence of the Parkway police's duty here was to protect life by promptly attempting rescue and calling for medical help for persons injured in the park."

                        The dissenting judge warned the ruling could result in wild places such as Palisades Interstate Park being closed to the public.

                        A lower court had dismissed the lawsuit on the ground the police have immunity.

                        "We're pleased that the Appellate Division has now allowed the Aversano family to present its case at trial," said Newark lawyer Richard Ulsamer, who represents the family.

                        Aversano's father, Michael, of Waldwick in Bergen County, said the ruling brought up "mixed emotions. I'm happy, but it reopens old wounds." He said Andrew was a student at the University of Albany.

                        The state Attorney General's Office, which defended the Parkway police, is considering whether to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court, according to spokesman Chuck Davis.

                        According to Ulsamer and the court decision, the accident occurred on May 1, 1999, when Andrew Aversano, who had been sunbathing, got up, lost his balance and fell backward off a 300-foot cliff.

                        Ulsamer said Aversano's father quickly arrived at police headquarters and "was told it was a rescue from the outset." It was not until police officers were questioned as a result of the lawsuit that the family learned otherwise, Ulsamer said.

                        According to the court ruling, it is undisputed that Parkway police officers reached the top of the cliff where Aversano fell about 3:10 p.m. but decided recovery of the body could wait until the start of the 4 p.m. shift. The recovery team reached Aversano at 5:59, found him alive and called the Closter Rescue Squad and a medevac helicopter. The rescue squad and paramedics arrived about 6:05 and began the hour-and-a half descent of the cliff wall, but Aversano stopped breathing half an hour before they reached him.

                        Appellate Division Judges Barbara Byrd Wecker and Joseph Lisa concluded that, while there are many situations in which the police would have immunity against a lawsuit, this was not one of them.

                        "Had the Parkway police been out on other calls and unable to respond more quickly, immunity would apply," Wecker wrote. "If the police had no means of obtaining medical treatment by someone trained to reach Andrew, immunity would apply. And if the police had concluded that the danger to medical rescue personnel was too great to risk rappelling down the cliff to Andrew's aid, immunity would apply to that discretionary decision."

                        "But none of those scenarios fit the facts here," Wecker added. "The police had the ability (and responsibility) to call the Closter Rescue Squad."

                        Appellate Division Judge Dorothea Wefing dissented, concluding the Legislature provided "absolute immunity" against lawsuits for injuries on unimproved public lands, to keep them from being closed to the public. She said the same reasoning ought to bar lawsuits for "alleged negligence relating to failed rescue efforts in connection with the use of these recreational areas."


                        • #13
                          In that example of George's, to me, the critical part was the PD decided at 3:10pm that they could wait for the 4:00pm shift to come in.

                          Don't know if it was laziness, or not wanting to spend Overtime funds, or perhaps there was a good reason not reported (like the 2nd shift had officers with better skills for such an attempt, and they couldn't get in any sooner).

                          Anyway...from the way the report sounds (and that's just a small part of what happened), PD simply sat on it for 50 minutes.

                          I really doubt the case would've gone that far if they had made an effort to reach the body as soon as was practical instead of as soon as was convient.

                          None of us are perfect, and as much as some lawyers want to jump on the slightest mistake, there's very few of us who ever score 100% on a test or Bar Exam. But do your best with thought, concern & caring and you're usually pretty safe.

                          But then again, I'm just a four-legged spotted firehouse lawyer
                          IACOJ Canine Officer


                          • #14
                            Another fire dept. being sued.

                            NARRAGANSETT, R.I. (AP) - The New Jersey family of a University
                            of Rhode Island student killed in a house fire last year is suing
                            the town, claiming negligence by the fire department.
                            The $10 million wrongful-death claim was filed Oct. 22 by the
                            family of Jennifer Kane, a 21-year-old from Brielle, N.J. Kane died
                            July 17, 2002, in an early morning fire at a house she had been
                            renting near Scarborough State Beach. Her roommate, a fellow URI
                            student, escaped through her bedroom window.
                            The claim, which the town received on Thursday, alleges that
                            firefighters were slow in responding and in subsequent rescue
                            The suit alleges negligence that includes poor response time;
                            outdated engines and equipment; inadequate fire-rescue training;
                            failure to know the locations of all available hydrants, and
                            failure to use proper techniques in responding to the residential
                            house fire.
                            Fire Chief James Cotter did not immediately return a call on
                            Saturday seeking comment.

                            (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
                            Proudly serving as the IACOJ Minister of Information & Propoganda!
                            Be Safe! Lookouts-Awareness-Communications-Escape Routes-Safety Zones

                            *Gathering Crust Since 1968*
                            On the web at www.section2wildfire.com


                            • #15

                              I am also a civil servant USAF 20 years next month. Here's my question? I am just so mad right now I could and have screamed and yelled. I had a fire in my home just about a week ago. It was kind of a rare situation. My hair straightner was accidently turned on and destroyed my master bedroom. The very next day at 1200PM my neighbors called 911 because they heard a loud pop, I have 4 fire departments within 5 miles of my home. The first responders were the same ones who responded the the day prior. I also live around 3 firemen 2 of which were off duty but jumped my 6 ft fence with a garden hose. The first responders assumed (correctly) that no-one was in the home. They didn't even look. Second they were walking around my house walking up with the hoses no-one was running and I mean no-one. I have a $300,000 home or should say I did. What started out as a electrical fire in the master bedroom in which 2 off duty firemen said they had a relatively good control on, (they told the captain where the fire was and the lay out of my home, he knew it anyway from the previous day) ended up becoming a 4 alarm fire that total my home! How long once a truck has arrived and the hoses are out do they have to turn the water or foam (in my case water) on? I feel so bad about being this mad, I know these men put their lives on the line every day, but what the hell? The neighbor across the street is the son of a long time vet of the fire dept he video taped the entire thing, it is just aweful to see, but how much time should it take to get water on a fire that 2 other off duty firemen have located?


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