The Supreme Court of New Jersey Rules That The Firefighters’ Rule Has Been Abolished

By: Attorney Gary E. Adams
Now Emergency Responders injured on the job could be eligible for both workers’ compensation and personal injury claims.

In a decision issued on March 13, 2007, the Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled that the common law doctrine prohibiting first responders from recovering damages from a property owner for a personal injury sustained while confronting an emergency on the owner’s premises, is no longer in effect.

The “Firefighters’ Rule” in New Jersey was created in a series of judicial decisions beginning in 1960. This doctrine prohibited emergency responders, such as police officers, firefighters and rescue squad members, from filing civil lawsuits against property owners for personal injuries they sustained while responding to emergencies, even if the property owner’s negligence caused the emergency responder’s injuries. This doctrine never precluded emergency responders, whether salaried or volunteer, from filing a workers’ compensation claim for an injury sustained during an emergency call. However, emergency responders were not allowed to seek compensation for their injuries from a property owner, even where the property owner’s carelessness caused injury.

Despite almost universal criticism of this rule, which sharply limited the ability of emergency responders to seek compensation for their injuries, this rule remained in place until the New Jersey State Legislature acted in 1993, when it passed a Statute revising the Firefighters’ Rule to allow emergency responders to file lawsuits for their injuries. Unfortunately, notwithstanding the clear language of the new law, insurance companies defending claims filed by first responders continued to argue that police officers, firefighters and rescue squad members were precluded from filing claims for their personal injuries.

The Supreme Court has now made it absolutely clear that the Firefighters’ Rule has been abolished. In the case of Ruiz v. Mero, the Court ruled that the intent of the Legislature was to completely do away with the Firefighters’ Rule. Now, emergency responders, without doubt, have the same right as all other citizens of this State to recover for personal injuries caused by the careless conduct of property owners.

For more information on this article, or to discuss a personal injury or workers’ compensation case, please contact Mr. Adams at 1-800-432-LAWS.

Legal Resources:
Articles Glossary