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Carson v. Headrick

Supreme Court of Tennessee, At Knoxville

June 5, 1995, Filed

No. 03-S-01-9406-CV-00044

Opinion

 [*686]  OPINION

ANDERSON, C.J.

We granted this appeal to determine whether we should reaffirm or abandon the policemen and firemen's rule, which precludes firefighters and police officers from recovering damages for injuries arising out of risks peculiar to their employment.

We are persuaded that sound public policy considerations support the continuation of the rule based on the nature of the duty of police officers and the relationship between the officers and the public they protect. We, therefore, conclude that a citizen calling for police assistance owes no duty of ordinary care to responding police officers who are injured. We also conclude, however, that a duty of care is owed where police officers are injured by a citizen's intentional, malicious, or reckless misconduct. In so holding, we reaffirm the policemen and firemen's rule and adopt [**2]  its principal exception.

The Court of Appeals upheld a trial court summary judgment for the citizen on the ground that the police officers had assumed the risk. Since our decision is based on the reaffirmation of the policemen and firemen's rule, we affirm the Court of Appeals' decision, as modified, on the separate grounds set out below.

BACKGROUND

At approximately 4:30 p.m. on October 16, 1991, the defendant, Judith Headrick, called the Knox County, Tennessee, emergency 911 service to report a potential domestic disturbance at her home in West Knox County. Specifically, Headrick informed the 911 dispatcher that she was at a truck park near her home and needed a police officer to accompany her to her home to pick up some personal belongings because her husband, Jerry Headrick, had threatened to "destroy everything" if she was not home by 5:30 p.m. She reported to the dispatcher that he was violent at times; that he had been drinking and had guns in the house. The 911 dispatcher conveyed this information to the sheriff's department, along with instructions to meet the defendant.

The plaintiffs, James Carson and Matthew Baird, patrol officers with the Knox County Sheriff's Department,  [**3]  met Headrick at the Flying J Travel Plaza, and after a brief conversation, accompanied her to her nearby home. Officer Carson was in the lead driving a sheriff's department cruiser, followed by Headrick in her own car, who in turn was  [*687]  followed by Officer Baird in another sheriff's department cruiser. As the vehicles arrived, Jerry Headrick began firing a "30.06" caliber rifle, with a scope sight from a concealed position in or near the Headricks' mobile home. Both officers were struck by the gunfire -- Carson in his upper body and arm, and Baird in his right hand and on the right side of his head. After wounding the officers, Jerry Headrick killed himself.

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900 S.W.2d 685 *; 1995 Tenn. LEXIS 309 **

JAMES RICHARD CARSON, and TRINA DENISE CARSON, and MATTHEW GRAY BAIRD, Plaintiffs/Appellants, VS. JUDITH GREEN HEADRICK, Defendant/Appellee.

Prior History:  [**1]  CIRCUIT COURT. KNOX COUNTY. HON. HAROLD WIMBERLY, JR.

Disposition: AFFIRMED, AS MODIFIED

CORE TERMS

police officer, firemen's, firefighters, reaffirm, malicious, reasonable care, duty owed, classified, injuries, licensee, policy considerations, reckless misconduct, assumption of risk, public policy, dispatcher, responding, peculiar, invitee, risks

Torts, General Premises Liability, Defenses, Firefighters' Rule, Elements, Duty, General Overview, Duties of Care, Premises & Property Liability, Civil Procedure, Trials, Jury Trials, Province of Court & Jury, Governments, Courts, Judicial Precedent