The Rescue Doctrine
The Rescue Doctrine recognizes that a danger to an individual often results in a rescue attempt by others. Therefore, the negligence of the defendant in creating a dangerous situation threatens not only the imperiled individual but also wrongfully threatens any potential rescuer. Lowrey v. Horvath, 689 S.W.2d 625 (Mo. 1985). Absent the Rescue Doctrine, a plaintiff would not be able to knowingly and voluntarily place himself or herself in a position where he or she might sustain serious injury, or death, without being found personally negligent in doing so. Welch v. Hesston Corp., 540 S.W.2d 127 (Mo. Ct. App. 1976).
It follows then, that the Rescue Doctrine is not applicable to cases in which the danger is only to property. Ellmaker v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 372 S.W.2d 650 (Mo. Ct. App. 1963). The Rescue Doctrine concept typically involves a voluntary act by a rescuer who acts spontaneously in the heat of the moment in an emergency situation, with a humane motive and without any legal duty to act, in order to prevent serious injury and loss of life. Nastasio v. Cinnamon, 295 S.W.2d 117 (Mo. 1956).
The Rescue Doctrine elements include: 1. Defendant’s negligence created a condition that endangered the safety of either the defendant or other person. Lowrey v. Horvath, 689 S.W.2d 625 (Mo. 1985); 2. Plaintiff attempted or completed a rescue of the endangered person; and, 3. Plaintiff, as a result of the rescue effort, sustained injuries or died. Allison v. Sverdrup & Parcel and Associates, Inc., 738 S.W.2d 440, 75 A.L.R.4th 845 (Mo. Ct. App. E.D. 1987). In Allison v. Sverdrup & Parcel and Associates, Inc., 738 S.W.2d 440, 75 A.L.R.4th 845 (Mo. Ct. App. E.D. 1987), the rescuer died in the rescue attempt and an action for wrongful death was brought by his survivors.
The Rescue Doctrine offers two important benefits, as a matter of law, to the person who is attempting to recover for injuries incurred during a rescue attempt: That they are not negligent in knowingly and voluntarily placing one’s self in a position where the likelihood of receiving serious injury is great, if the exposure to the danger results from reasonable actions and is for the purpose of saving human life, and that the defendant’s negligence in creating the peril that induced the rescue was the proximate cause of the injury for which recovery is sought. Allison v. Sverdrup & Parcel and Associates, Inc., 738 S.W.2d 440, 75 A.L.R.4th 845 (Mo. Ct. App. E.D. 1987).
The Firefighters Rule
The Firefighter’s Rule provides that a firefighter brought in contact with an emergency situation solely by reason of his status as a firefighter who is injured while performing his or her firefighter’s duties may not recover against the person whose ordinary negligence created the emergency. A fireman generally assumes all risks incident to his firefighting activities except for hidden risks which are known by the landowner. The Firefighter’s Rule was extended to police officers in Lambert v. Schaefer, 839 S.W.2d 27, 29 (Mo. Ct. App. W.D. 1992). Hallquist v. Midden, 196 S.W.3d 601, 605 (Mo. Ct. App. E.D. 2006).
The “firefighter’s rule” holds that a firefighter enters with the same rights as a "licensee". As such, the landowner owes the firefighter no duty as to the maintenance of the property and generally has no duty to warn. Thus, generally, the firefighter takes the premises as they are found.
The public policy behind the rule is that firemen are hired and trained to routinely confront dangerous situations affecting all of us as a whole; therefore, the costs of their injuries should be borne by the public as a whole, whether through workers compensation laws or other insurance.
However, the Firefighter Rule is not a bar to recovery if there is wantonness, recklessness or willfulness, or some form of intentional wrong, or some active negligence on the part of the landowner or landlord or other party in possession or control of the property.
Accordingly, the Firefighter’s Rule affects a defendant’s liability in cases involving ordinary negligence, but it does not provide a license to act with impunity or without regard for the firefighter's well-being.
Additionally, the Firefighter Rule is not a bar to recovery if the firefighter is not on an emergency run or activity; is on official duty; and, sustains injury due to the negligence of the landowner or landlord or other in possession or control of the property. Gray v. Russell, 853 S.W.2d 928 (Mo. 1993).
In Hallquist v. Midden, 196 S.W.3d 601, 605 (Mo. Ct. App. E.D. 2006), the Firefighter's Rule was held not to apply when a police officer stopped two drunk drivers and then was struck by a third drunk driver.
In Wagener v. Burmeister, 858 S.W.2d 865 (Mo. Ct. App. E.D. 1993), the Firefighter's Rule was held not to apply when a police officer on a routine administrative assignment and activity checking a malfunctioning burglar alarm tripped over a defective stair at the defendant’s building.
In Martin v. Survivair Respirators, Inc., 298 S.W.3d 23, 32 (Mo. Ct. App. E.D. 2009) the Fireman’s Rule was held not applicable where safety devices for the deceased failed when he was actively engaged in a fireman’s duties.
Whatever your legal challenge, we will listen to your concerns and answer your questions about likely outcomes and consequences. We deal with Personal Injury, Wrongful Death and Worker's Compensation in Columbia, MO. Contact Holder Susan Slusher, LLCtoday for a free consultation or case review. Mike Holder manages our personal injury area of the practice. While we are based in Columbia, MO across the street from the Boone County Court House, we help clients in several parts of Missouri.
The information on this web page does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney- client relationship. If you believe you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.