Editorial: For first responders, hazards are part of the job
New Hampshire lawmakers should pass a bill sponsored by Hooksett Sen. David Boutin and four House members to undo the potential harm created last year when the state Supreme Court ruled that an Epping firefighter could sue a homeowner for injuries sustained when he fell on an icy driveway while answering a call.
A law commonly known as the Fireman’s Rule bars firefighters from seeking compensation from property owners from injuries sustained by the negligence that caused the fire: a pot left on the stove or a candle placed next to curtains, for example. But the court ruled that the law does not prohibit a firefighter from suing for compensation from injuries that result from negligence unrelated to the reason for the call for help, like an unfilled hole dug by a dog, an unshoveled sidewalk or a broken stair.
The court may have followed the letter of the law in its ruling, but firefighters are right to believe that such lawsuits could lead to a delay in calling for help for fear of being sued if a responder is injured. To remedy that, House Bill 123 extends the limit on liability for negligence claims to any injury related to the performance of the firefighter’s duties, which is as it should be. As David Lang, president of the professional firefighters union argues, firefighters gave up their right to sue over job-related injuries in exchange for worker’s compensation and other benefits. A delay caused by a homeowner who paused before calling for help to inventory his home’s hazards – an unshoveled walk, toys on stairs, a gas can in the garage e_SEnD could allow a fire to spread and put firefighters at even greater risk, Lang warns.
This is New Hampshire. Snow, ice and freezing rain come with the territory and can’t always be removed promptly, particularly by the elderly.
Before dialing 911, people shouldn’t have to fear that they’ll be sued. Lawmakers should pass the bill, but not before considering whether to rewrite it so it clearly applies not just to firefighters but to all first responders.