A $15 Million Dollar Verdict was deemed uncollectable under “Fireman’s Rule”. A Fulton County police officer was providing security, part-time, for a local church. While on his way home, he came upon a single car accident. The officer recognized the crashed vehicle as the type of vehicle typically driven by undercover officers and detectives.
When the officer stopped to render aid, he was shot by the driver of the crashed vehicle. The driver of the crashed vehicle turned out to be police officer from a different police department.
The injured officer had already removed his bullet proof vest on the way home. He was disabled and underwent eight surgeries to save his shattered hand an d arm.
The jury deliberated only 80 minutes before rendering a verdict in favor of the wounded officer, awarding $15 million. However, on a motion for summary judgment, the Judge dismissed three defendants (the city for which the defendant officer was employed, the city’s police chief and police major), as a result of the “fireman’s rule.” Under the “fireman’s rule”, officers cannot sue for injuries sustained in the line of duty, because such injuries are a “forseeable risk of the job.”
Although the injured police officer was off duty at the time of the shooting, the court considered him to be on duty because he was driving his patrol car and was wearing his uniform when he stopped to offer assistance to the driver of the crashed vehicle.
With the city, the police chief and the police major dismissed from the case as defendants, the lone remaining defendant was the officer who did the shooting. The lone remaining defendant did not appear at the trial because he is incarcerated serving a 75 year sentence of which 60 years are to be served in prison.
Unfortunately, the defendant who actually did the shooting is what we typically classify as “judgment proof”, i.e., no assets from which to collect the judgment.
There are also other occupations in which there is an assumption of risk, for example the airline industry. Injuries or death while in the line of duty may be limited to only a workers compensation claim for employees.
In this case, the Court of Appeals held that the shooter was not acting in the course and scope of his employment; however, the injured Plaintiff could consider bringing a separate action for “negligent hiring” for which compensation may be sought from the city.
The doctrine of “assumption of risk” provides that if the plaintiff (injured party) by ordinary care could have avoided the consequences to himself caused by the defendant’s negligence, he is not entitled to recover.
Under O.C.G.A. § 51-11-7, assumption of risk may be implied or express. To succeed in applying the assumption of risk defense, (1) the Plaintiff must have had actual knowledge of the danger, (2) the Plaintiff must have understood and appreciated the risk associated with the danger, and (3) the Plaintiff must have voluntarily exposed himself to the associated risk.
Under the “fireman’s rule” the nature of the job subjects the employee to risks of injury created by individuals he or she is called upon to serve. When the employee accepts the job, the employee assumes a risk of injury. This rule is seen as justified because the employee is paid to encounter the risk and receives training to cope with the risk.
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