What legal rights do firefighters have if injured in the line of duty
Everyone knows that firefighting is a dangerous profession. Noone knows that better than the firefighters themselves. There is inherent risk of the job, but that doesn’t mean that injuries are “just another day at the office”. Under New York State law, injured firefighters have significant legal rights, but it wasn't always this way.
A Brief history of firefighter legal rights
The firefighter’s rule
There was a time when firefighters were barred from bringing a lawsuit for most work injuries caused by another person's negligence. Because this harsh treatment was reserved for firefighters alone, it was termed the “firefighter’s rule.” Why were firefighters singled out? Courts justified the rule by claiming that firefighters "assumed the risk" of their dangerous profession.
The implications of the firefighter’s rule are obvious. A firefighter who sustained terrible injuries as a result of someone’s negligence could never be compensated for his loss. He could lose his career and ability to support his family, without legal recourse. Worse still, the firefighter’s rule seemed to encourage negligence.
General Municipal Law § 205-a
In 1935, the New York State legislature stepped in. It enacted General Municipal Law § 205-a, which permits firefighters to sue when they are injured as the result of someone’s violation of a statute, rule, or regulation. Still, courts were not quick to part ways with the firefighter’s rule. They applied GML § 205-a narrowly, often imposing limitations not contained in the statute. In response to these court decisions, lawmakers have amended GML § 205-a a number of times. Each time, making clear that firefighters in New York are afforded far-reaching protections and ensuring that the statute is interpreted as the legislature intended.
Thankfully, recent court decisions and lawsuits brought on behalf of injured firefighters have confirmed that firefighters are receiving these special protections. For example, a defendant can no longer argue that a firefighter was injured because of his own negligence, or that he “assumed the risk.” Moreover, the connection between the violation and the firefighter’s injury need not be as close as in an ordinary negligence case. The requirement for a plaintiff to prove a defendant knew about a violation is reduced in these cases as well.
Some examples of how GML § 205-a can be applied are:
- If an illegal wall has been built inside the structure, and during the fire rescue, that wall collapses and crushes, causes other injury, or kills the firefighter.
- The firefighter uses a handrail that was found to be insufficiently secured to a wall and suffers injury resulting in failure of the hand rail.
- If a firefighter attempts to climb stairs that are at a steeper angle than OSHA ordinance allows, then subsequently falls down those stairs.
To win a lawsuit brought under General Municipal Law § 205-a, an injured firefighter must show that the defendant violated a federal, state, or local provision that is part of a “well-developed body of law”. Provisions from the NYC Administrative Code (including the fire, housing maintenance, and building codes), New York State Multiple Dwelling Law, New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law, and OSHA are frequently cited in GML § 205-a cases. Violations of the Penal Law and section 27-a of the New York State Labor Law have also been successfully asserted in such cases.
General Obligations Law § 11-106
In 1996, the legislature enacted General Obligations Law § 11-106. This provision gives firefighters a cause of action in negligence for line-of-duty injuries, except against municipal employers and fellow workers. Thus, an injured firefighter now has two potential avenues for recovery from negligent parties. If the violation of a statute, rule, or city ordinance caused injury to a firefighter, they can bring a lawsuit under GML § 205-a. If someone’s negligence caused the injuries, regardless of whether there was a violation of a statute, the firefighter may bring a cause of action in negligence, except against his employer.
what should I do if I sustain an injury in the line of duty?
If you sustain a work-related injury, you should immediately take the following two steps:
- Complete an accurate CD-72 Report (also known as a Line of Duty Member Injury Report) that specifies the negligent condition that caused your injury. This will be important evidence, and it is recommended that you ask an officer for help if you have not completed this document in the past.
- After you document your injury with a doctor or hospital, contact a lawyer who has experience handling firefighter injury cases.
How can Napoli Shkolnik help with a firefighter injury claim?
Napoli Shkolnik has access to the resources and information needed to help you build a successful case. We are uniquely positioned with former firefighters who are familiar with the risks that firefighters face. Of Counsel Stephen Holihan is a retired firefighter who has been disabled by the events of the 9/11 World Trade Center Attacks.
He personally knows the hardship firefighters faced and continue to face in connection with the 9/11 attacks. Stephen maintains close ties to the FDNY community. He litigates tirelessly for firefighters in defense of their three-quarter disability injury pensions and other serious firefighter injury matters.
Contact our lawyers for a free consultation
To speak with an experienced firefighter injury attorney today, call (844) 230-7676 or contact us online. We take cases on a contingency fee basis. There is no risk or obligation for you.