Discrimination Suit Prompts Insurance Coverage Issue – Both Now Settled

A former volunteer firefighter in Florida has settled his federal court race discrimination lawsuit with his former department for $40,000. David Tom, an Asian American, filed suit last year against the Indian Harbour Beach Volunteer Fire Department.

Tom alleged he was treated unfairly by the department, and subjected to “systemic and pervasive harassment” because of his race by a group of firefighters referred to as the “A-Team.” Tom also alleges he was denied workers compensation coverage for a training injury,  retaliated against after complaining, and wrongfully terminated from the department.

The suit raised brought to light an important issue that all fire departments ought to consider: insurance coverage. When the suit was filed, the Indian Harbour Beach Volunteer Fire Department had no liability insurance coverage. The department’s leadership assumed they were covered by the City of Indian Harbour Beach’s liability policy. However, the fire department is organized as a separate and independent 501(c)(3) non-profit. The department  provided a service to the city under contract, but was not covered by the city’s liability policy.

According to clickorlando.com, a second concern was discovered when it was learned that the fire company’s bylaws “prohibit the use of donations or fundraising revenues for legal defense or liability insurance costs.” Fortunately for the fire company, the city’s insurer agreed to step in and cover the settlement cost. The city agreed to reimburse fire company for it’s legal fees up to $17,000.

The city also agreed to cover the cost of the fire company’s new liability insurance policy at a cost of $2555 for this year. More on the story.

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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