Suit By Boston Fire Captain Raises Fireman’s Rule Question

A Boston fire captain who was injured at a fatal fire in 2016, has filed suit against the building owner, raising questions about the Fireman’s Rule. Captain Kevin Garry was injured while operating at a fire in a building that housed the dental office of Dr. Walter Holman. Dr. Holman’s son, Christopher, died from injuries he sustained in the fire.

The fire was caused by an unattended Bunsen burner. Captain Garry filed suit in 2017 accusing Dr. Holman of negligence, and seeking recovery for his injuries. The case is in the news again as Boston Channel 4’s I-team questions whether it is fair for firefighters to sue property owners under these circumstances.

Here is the news coverage:

 

This suit is the quintessential Fireman’s Rule case. Many states disallow such suits, while many states permit them. As Captain Garry’s counsel wisely points out, allowing Captain Garry to recover also allows the city to recoup the costs that it incurred in paying for his injuries.

To be clear, when a firefighter is allowed to recover from the party responsible for his injuries – the fire department is entitled to a lien on the proceeds of any recovery …  and may recoup whatever expenses it has paid for medical bills, the injured member’s salary paid while off-injured, and arguably even the back-fill necessary to replace the injured member.

Some may consider that to be a relevant – but often overlooked – consideration in the discussion about whether a firefighter should be permitted to recover from a building owner whose negligence causes the fire that injures the firefighter.

 

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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