California Appellate Court Discusses “Firefighter’s Rule” in Recent Personal Injury Case

In April of 2019, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a California premises liability case discussing the application of the state’s “firefighter’s rule.” Ultimately, the court concluded that the case did not implicate the firefighter’s rule.

The firefighter’s rule is an exception to the general rule that landowners have a duty to ensure that their property is safe for visitors. Originally, the firefighter’s rule applied to firefighters and emergency personnel who put themselves at risk while engaging in the necessary functions of the job. Essentially, the firefighter’s rule prohibits a firefighter from pursuing a claim against a landowner because the firefighter is said to have assumed the risk of injury by agreeing to work in that capacity.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was a site manager at a home in Beverly Hills. The home was architecturally unique in that there was a cantilevered concrete platform that extended from a steep hill, designed to look as though it was floating. The owner of the property, the defendant, rented the home for special events.

Evidently, the plaintiff was a “site representative” who would ensure that guests kept the property safe during special events. The plaintiff was also charged with taking care to see that guests remained safe while on the property. During an especially crowded event, the plaintiff fell from the concrete platform. There were no railings along the platform because, according to the defendant, installing railings would ruin the aesthetic.

The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the property owner as well as the event organizer. The lower court dismissed the event organizer from the case in a pre-trial motion for summary judgment, and the case proceeded against the property owner. At the conclusion of the evidence, the court instructed the jury on the firefighter’s rule. Specifically, the court instructed the jury that the defendant is not liable if the plaintiff’s injury “arose from a risk inherent in the occupation of site representative.” The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant and the plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the court agreed with the plaintiff that the firefighter’s rule was inapplicable to the case. The court explained that the firefighter’s rule is a version of the “primary assumption of the risk doctrine,” where the risk that resulted in the plaintiff’s injury was inherent in the plaintiff’s occupation.

Here, the court held that the risk of falling off the platform was not inherent in the plaintiff’s occupation as a site representative. The court reasoned that the plaintiff’s job requirements did not include to prevent guests from falling off the concrete platform. In so holding, the court noted that the defendant testified that, in his opinion, the platform did not even present a danger. Thus, the court explained that it was unrealistic that the defendant hired the plaintiff to protect against a danger he did not believe was present. The court went on to determine that the lower court’s decision to instruct the jury on the firefighter’s rule was prejudicial and required a new trial.

Have You Been Injured on Another’s Property?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured while on another’s property, you may be eligible for financial compensation through a California premises liability lawsuit. At the Sharifi Firm, APC, we represent injury victims across the state in all types of California personal injury cases. To learn more about how we can help you pursue a claim for compensation based on the injuries you have sustained, call 866-422-7222 to schedule a free consultation today.

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