Can A Police Officer Sue a 9-1-1 Caller For Failure to Warn of Danger of Assault?

A Texas police officer has sued a 9-1-1 caller for failing to warn the 9-1-1 official (and thus the police officer) that the police responding to the call would be walking into a dangerous situation.  The responding officer was attacked by a man at the home who had allegedly been using bath salts for several days.

That dog would not hunt in Tennessee. Tennessee (and most states) have what was historically known as the "policemen and firemen’s" rule which, by the way, applies to female police officers and firefighters as well.

Here is a general statement of the rule from Tennessee’s leading case on point, Carson v. Headrick , 900 S.W.2d 685 (Tenn. 1995):

It is beyond peradventure that the maintenance of organized society requires the presence and protection of firefighters and police officers. The fact is that situations requiring their presence are as inevitable as anything in life can be. It is apparent that these officers are employed for the benefit of society in general, and for people involved in circumstances requiring their presence in particular. The court in Calvert v. Garvey Elevators, Inc., [694 P.2d 433 (Kan. 1985)]] noted that ‘[f]irefighters enter on the premises to discharge their duties. Fire fighters are present upon the premises, not because of any private duty owed the occupant, but because of the duty owed to the public as a whole.’ Calvert, supra, [694 P.2d 433]." 

[W]e 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.

Id. at 689.

This does not mean that the public owes no duty to police officers and firefighters.  The same court opinion cited above makes it clear that Tennessee law provides that 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.   In addition, the law does not prohibit a police officer or firefighter from bringing claims in other situations, such as claims arising in car wrecks caused by the negligence of others while the public servant is on duty.

By the way, this rule also applies to "animal control officers" who, while on duty,  are bitten by dogs. Jamison v. Ulrich, 206 S.W.3d 410 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2006).

Thanks to Overlawyered for bringing this lawsuit to my attention.


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