Kentucky Case Upholds Immunity for Fire Departments

When it comes to the liability of fire departments, suits for negligent firefighting concern fire chiefs and firefighters the most. Making life and death decisions in a time compressed, high-stress environment with incomplete situational awareness seems like a recipe for poor decisionmaking. These circumstances that make it easy to be second guessed afterwards if things don't turn out right.

In many jurisdictions, immunity protection serves as a shield for fire departments from being second guessed (and held liable) by courts and juries. The problem is, immunity protections are constantly under attack. A recent case in Kentucky, involving the Caneyville Volunteer Fire Department, presented a constitutional challenge to the immunity protection provided to fire departments. The challenge was based on a provision in the Kentucky state constitution that gives every person who is "wronged" a right to redress through the courts.

The case is an interesting read, looking historically at both the fire service in Kentucky and immunity laws in general. The bottom line: The Supreme Court of Kentucky upheld immunity protection for fire departments for operational activities at the scene of a fire.

Download CaneyvilleCaseKYSovereignImmun

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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