Blue Chipper – Policemen and Firemen’s Rule

The Case:  Carson v. Headrick, 900  S.W..2d 685  (Tenn. 1995).  Author:  Justice Riley Anderson.

Why it is a Blue Chipper:  Carson is the leading, current case on policemen and firemen’s rule.

The bottom line:

A.  “The policemen and firemen’s rule precludes firefighters and police officers from recovering damages for injuries arising out of risks peculiar to their employment. The rule originated over one hundred years ago in Gibson v. Leonard, 143 Ill. 182, 32 N.E. 182 (1892).” P. 687.

B.  "[W]e observe that the preservation of organized society requires the presence and protection of police officers. Situations requiring the presence of police, although commonplace and inevitable, are also routinely dangerous. Public policy considerations, as well as societal expectations, militate against allowing police officers to institute tort actions against a citizen for an injury resulting from a risk the officer is trained and hired to confront. Simply stated, societal policies do not support imposition of a duty of reasonable care upon a citizen calling for police assistance.  Rather, public policy is served when citizens are encouraged to summon aid from police, regardless of their negligence, and are assured that the compensation for injuries sustained by police in the line of duty will be borne by the public as a whole.  Accordingly, we conclude as a matter of public policy that a citizen owes no duty of reasonable care to police officers responding to that citizen’s call for assistance and join the majority of other jurisdictions who have reaffirmed the policemen and firemen’s rule on public policy grounds.  P. 690 [Citations omitted.]

C.  “[W]e are of the opinion that the policemen and firemen’s rule constitutes a logical and sound application of the tort principle of duty.”   P. 690 [Footnote omitted.]

D.  “A principal exception to the rule that has developed in other states is relevant to the disposition of this case. That exception provides that when a police officer is injured by the intentional, malicious, or reckless*691 acts of a citizen, the action is not barred by the policemen and firemen’s rule.  The rationale for the exception is that police officers are not employed to submit to intentional, reckless, or malicious injury. Moreover, recognition of moral fault as a component of public policy is a common principle of tort law.  Exposing the individual wrongdoer to liability will not only act as a deterrent to others, but it will also relieve the public of the financial burden attributable to the intentional, individual wrongdoer. Prohibiting recovery against one who intentionally, maliciously or recklessly causes injury to police officers stretches the policy considerations supporting the policemen and firemen’s rule beyond logical and justifiable limits. As a result, the majority of courts considering the issue have concluded that either by action or inaction, a citizen has a duty to refrain from intentionally, maliciously, or recklessly causing injury to police officers responding to the citizen’s call for assistance.”  P. 690-91 [Citations omitted.]

E.  “We reaffirm the policemen and firemen’s rule which precludes firefighters and police officers from recovering damages for injuries arising out of risks peculiar to their employment. We also conclude, however, that a duty of care is owed where police officers are injured by a citizen’s intentional, malicious, or reckless misconduct.”   P 691.

Other Cases of Note: 

A.  Jamison v. Ulrich, 2006 WL 407795  (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 22, 2006) (rule applies to dog catchers).

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