The firefighters rule was a traditional rule of law which generally precluded firefighters, police officers, and certain other public employees from recovering against a defendant whose negligence caused the public employee's work-related injury. For example, if a fire is caused by a homeowner who negligently left a fire burning in the fire place, a firefighter traditionally could not sue the homeowner for his injuries. This traditional rule was heavily criticized by courts, lawyers, and legal scholars, and it has fallen into disfavor.
New Michigan Legislation
Michigan law has partially abolished this traditional rule. Instead of completely barring a firefighter or other public employee from suing for his injuries, Michigan law provides a public employee can sue in some circumstances.
First, the public employee can sue any defendant whenever the injures are caused by an abnormal and unforeseeable risk of the job.
Second, the public employee can sue a defendant for injuries caused by normal, inherent, and foreseeable risks of the job when the defendant is not a government entity in several circumstances. Lawsuits over the normal, inherent, and foreseeable risks of the job which are brought against a government entity are barred by governmental immunity.
The circumstances in which a public employee can sue a defendant that is not a government entity are defined by statute. MCL Section 600.2967 provides a public employee can sue when a negligent person's conduct is grossly negligent, willful, wanton, intentional, or criminal. The public employee may also sue over defective equipment in certain circumstances. Finally, the public employee may also sue over ordinary negligence is the cause of the injuries in certain circumstances, such as when the negligent person was not responsible for the emergency call that brought public employee to the accident scene or when the negligent person was responsible but the negligent act occurred after the public employee was already responding to the original emergency.
If any public employees are injured while responding to an emergency, they should contact a lawyer immediately to determine if they can sue for their injuries. Before hiring their lawyer, they should make sure the lawyer is familiar with the Michigan laws that have partially abolished the traditional firefighters rule.