California Fire Department Not Liable For Bee Swarm Death

The California Court of Appeals has upheld the dismissal of a strange wrongful death case against a fire department for not properly handling a swarm of Africanized bees. On September 18, 2008, the Niland Fire District of Imperial County responded to a 911 report of victim being attacked by a swarm of bees.

An EMS unit was immediately dispatched and arrived on scene to discover that specialized assistance would be required to deal with a large swarm of Africanized bees. The victim, Darren Dragoo, 42, was recovering from back surgery and was riding in an electric wheelchair at the time of the attack.

Mutual aid was requested from the Calipatria Fire District. NFD personnel attempted a futile rescue effort but were unable to access the victim until mutual aid arrived. Three of the NFD members were stung in the process, including Captain Angel Guerra who was allergic to bees. Captain Guerra was flown by helicopter to El Centro Regional Medical Center and survived. Dragoo succumbed to his injuries.

The victim’s family filed suit against the Niland Fire District alleging negligence. The theory of the case was that the fire department owed the victim of duty of care, and breached that duty by not requesting specialized assistance from Calipatria at the initial dispatch. The plaintiff also claimed that by responding to the incident NFD created the appearance of assisting the victim, and by doing so caused others not to provide assistance.  A professional courtesy tip of the hat to Plaintiff’s counsel for creativity on that one!

The Court of Appeals concluded that firefighters in California do not have a generalized duty to render aid to a victim. While the court stopped short of adopting the public duty rule that many states now apply to negligence suits against fire departments, the court held that without a legal duty to render aid to the victim, the fire district’s failure to request mutual aid sooner could not be the basis for liability. The family still has the option to appeal to the Supreme Court of California.

Here is a copy of the decision. Niland CA Bee Swarm

Here is more on the story.


About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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