Police Officer Sues After Shootout At Apartment Complex
A police officer who was injured in a shootout at an apartment complex has filed a lawsuit against the apartment complex’s owners under a theory of negligent security. The officer was responding to the scene of a complaint when one of the residents opened fire on him and other officers. He was seriously injured in the gunfire and has since filed a lawsuit against the apartment complex owners. However, Texas law makes it very difficult for first responders to file these types of lawsuits, including police officers.
While every state has some variation of the “firefighter’s rule” on the books, many states have moved to strike the law. The firefighter’s rule makes it nearly impossible for firefighters, police officers, or first responders to file negligence lawsuits against property owners. However, there are three exceptions under the law which may allow the officer’s complaint to proceed.
Understanding the firefighter’s rule
The firefighter’s rule places a bar on certain types of negligence lawsuits filed by public servants against property owners. There are three exceptions under the law. Those are:
- Intentional wrongdoing
- Negligence that occurs after a public safety officer arrives
- Failure to warn a public safety officer of dangerous conditions
It is unclear from the allegations that the police officer has sufficient cause to circumvent these restrictions. The officer would need to state a cause of action that was beyond ordinary negligence since the duties of his work require him to occasionally manage armed conflicts.
Working around the law
Texas law does allow first responders to file lawsuits based on a continuous negligence theory. As an example, one firefighter called to put out a train fire was killed after numerous explosions of fireworks contained within the cars. Even though the first responder responded to one explosion, the subsequent explosions each constituted their own discrete act of negligence. In other words, all it took was one explosion that occurred after the firefighter arrived at the scene to circumvent the law. In the case mentioned above, it may depend on whether or not the gunman was the primary target of the call or someone else.
The allegations against the property owners include allowing illegal activity to occur on the premises over a period of time and generally allowing for an unsafe environment.
How is the fireman’s rule interpreted now?
For a while, it depended entirely on where it was filed. However, firemen, police officers, and first responders are considered licensees for the purposes of premises liability. Invitees, who are invited onto the property for the express economic advancement of the owner are owed the highest duty of care. Invitees only need to prove simple negligence to win a claim. Licensees, like first responders, need to prove more than ordinary negligence. They need to make allegations of gross negligence, intentional misconduct, or that the negligence occurred after the first responders arrive. In other words, the negligence cannot be related to the call.
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