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Police Officers & Firefighters Win Right To Bring Negligence Lawsuits for Injuries Sustained in Line of Duty

Case Study


In an appeal successfully argued by SGT attorney Jennifer Goldstein and briefed by Ms. Goldstein and SGT attorney Jonathan Levine, the Connecticut Supreme Court held that police officers and firefighters may bring negligence lawsuits against third party tortfeasors to recover for injuries sustained in the performance of duty.

The case involved a police officer who had been injured while subduing an emotionally disturbed and violent man who had been committed to the custody and control of defendant Milford Hospital for psychiatric evaluation on an emergency basis. Plaintiff, a Connecticut State Trooper, had gone to the hospital to check on his fellow officers who had been hurt while arresting the emotionally disturbed man on I-95.  Plaintiff was injured when hospital employees negligently released the man from protective restraints and allowed him to go to the bathroom, completely unsupervised and unrestrained. When the man burst violently out of the bathroom into the public hospital corridor in a bid for escape, plaintiff chased him and was seriously injured in the ensuing struggle.

Plaintiff subsequently brought a negligence claim against Milford Hospital for allowing the man, who was known to be dangerous, to go to the bathroom unrestrained and unsupervised and for failing to supervise or restrain the disturbed man, to provide adequate security in the area where foreseeably dangerous patients are held and to train its staff adequately. The case had been dismissed in its initial stage by the trial court, which had granted a motion to strike both the original complaint and an amended substitute complaint. The Connecticut Supreme Court’s reversal of the trial court’s dismissals has the effect of ensuring that the State Trooper will have the opportunity to bring and prove his negligence claim against Milford Hospital.

The case is important as it (and a companion case decided by the Court the same day) establishes that previous attempts to bar a public safety officer’s right to bring a negligence lawsuit against a third party on the basis of the “firefighters’ rule” may not be extended beyond the limited context of premises liability cases. The “firefighter’s rule” is a principle of immunity that applies where police officers or firemen seek to bring negligence claims for injuries sustained on a landowner’s private property while executing their official duties. In this and its companion decision, the Connecticut Supreme Court expressly limited the “firefighter’s rule” to premises liability cases, holding that the policy rationales for the rule did not apply outside the premises liability context.

The case also established technically significant pleading principles, holding that where a substitute or amended complaint differs materially from the original complaint, and where the plaintiff makes a good faith effort to address deficiencies in an original complaint identified by the trial court, the plaintiff preserves his right to appeal after repleading.

On both the substantive and the technical grounds, this case enables public safety officers to seek redress for on-the-job injuries caused by third parties, a right that was previously granted to other public employees, but often withheld from public safety officers. The decision serves as an important recognition of the dangers that police officers and firefighters face every day.

 

 

*The content of this page has not been approved by the Court nor does it constitute legal advice. It is for the purpose of providing general information only.