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Workplace Injuries for First Responders

Firefighters, police and other emergency responders assume a risk of injury as part of their job duties. But if they are injured because of other factors — such as a property owner’s negligence — they may have legal recourse beyond workers’ compensation.

An emergency responder may seek compensation for injuries from a property owner whose act or failure to act led to conditions not related to the emergency at hand that caused them harm.

The New York slip-and-fall injury lawyers of David Resnick Associates can help if you are a firefighter, EMT or paramedic, law enforcement officer or other emergency responder who has been injured on a premises entered because of your job duties. You may have a right to compensation for medical bills, lost income, pain, suffering and potentially more if the property owner’s negligence caused your injuries.

The ‘Firefighter’s Rule,’ Negligence and Injured Emergency Responders’ Rights

Because of the inherent risk in emergency response work, in many cases an injured fireman, police officer, or EMT has no recourse but workers’ compensation if they are injured on the job.

The Firefighter’s Rule (or Fireman’s Rule) is an age-old legal theory that holds that a firefighter injured in a burning building cannot sue the building owner or even the party who caused the fire for injuries due to the fire. The rule also applies to other emergency responders, such as a police officer injured while arresting a suspect who struggles to avoid capture.

In New York, the courts have said the Firefighter’s Rule provides that “[p]olice and firefighters may not recover in common-law negligence for line-of-duty injuries resulting from risks associated with the particular dangers inherent in that type of employment” (Wadler v City of New York, 14 NY3d 192, 194).

The rule prohibits a police officer or a firefighter from filing a legal claim “when the performance of his or her duties increased the risk of the injury happening and did not merely furnish the occasion for the injury” (id. at 194-195, quoting the case Zanghi v Niagara Frontier Transp. Commn., 85 NY2d 423, 436).

However, if the cause of injury had nothing to do with job duties, the injured responder may have a claim. “(A) common-law negligence claim may proceed where an officer is injured in the line of duty merely because he or she happened to be present in a given location but was not engaged in any specific duty that increased the risk of receiving that injury,” the Appeals Court said in Zanghi. For example, if a walkway unaffected by fire in a building’s elevator collapsed, firefighters who fell and were injured on the walkway might have a valid claim.

In addition, state and New York City municipal laws allow claims for injuries that police, firefighters and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel suffer while on duty but that are not related to their job duties.

New York State does so in N.Y. General Obligation Law § 11-106 for “emergency responders who suffer injuries while in the lawful discharge of his official duties” if the injury “is proximately caused by the neglect, willful omission, or intentional, willful or culpable conduct” of any third party who is not an employer or co-worker.

In NYC, Labor Law § 27-a(3)(a) requires employers to furnish a workspace free from recognized hazards and to “provide reasonable and adequate protection to the lives, safety or health of … employees.” General Municipal Law § 205-e(1) allows a claim when an emergency responder is injured by another party’s failure to comply with requirements of any statutes, ordinances, rules, orders and requirements of the federal, state, or local governments.

After the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, more than 10,000 firefighters, police officers, and other New York City workers filed lawsuits alleging that they were not given proper protective gear for their work at the World Trade Center site. The lawsuits said the plaintiffs developed respiratory and pulmonary illnesses, cancers, and other health problems because of exposure to toxins at the site, which could have been prevented. In the end, New York City agreed to pay at least $625 million to the plaintiffs.

Common Actionable Injuries for Firefighters, Police Officers

Firefighters, police officers, EMS and others respond to emergencies in the New York City metro area every day. The most common accidents and injuries they face are the same as at other jobs, including slip-and-fall accidents, such as a FDNY firefighter’s recent fall at a Staten Island Macy’s, being struck by falling objects or shoved against objects and structures, and overexertion strains and sprains.

However, emergency responders also face threats to their well-being that are less common in other jobs, such as:

  • Violence / Assault: When responding to emergency medical calls, threats of violence to EMS workers can come from patients, family members or even bystanders. EMS workers are more likely to be assaulted by patients than firefighters, a federal study says. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 3,500 EMS workers received hospital treatment in 2016 for injuries resulting from work-related violence. Emergency responders also are exposed to the threat of dog bites from pets or guard dogs.
  • Motor Vehicle Crashes: The United States Fire Administration (USFA) says motor vehicle crashes are the cause of death for 20 to 25 percent of line-of-duty fatalities among firefighters, making them the second highest cause of death for firefighters. About 30,000 firetruck crashes occur each year. Motor vehicle fatalities were the leading cause of death to law enforcement officers in the United States for 11 of the 12 previous years, the USFA said in a 2014 report. Also, three fourths of EMS fatalities are transportation-related, according to the USFA.
  • Exposure to Toxins: Like 9/11 responders, firefighters and other emergency responders rush into scenes of trauma intent on saving people, often without a clear idea of what they are exposing themselves to. Emergency events may involve toxic chemicals, radioactive materials, or both, which may cause chemical or radiation burns, respiratory injury or contact injuries. Hazardous substances can injure organs or organ systems, and exposure to many toxins can cause cancer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains. An exposure claim may be possible if toxins were improperly or illegally stored or emergency responders were not issued appropriate protective gear.

Contact Our New York Injury Lawyers

If you are a New York emergency responder who has been injured due to the negligence of a property owner or another third party you encountered on the job, contact David Resnick & Associates, P.C., in New York City. Our attorneys can investigate the circumstance of your accident, discuss your legal options and do everything possible to get the maximum compensation for you. David Resnick is here for you. Call or contact us online today.

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