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The professional rescuer's doctrine is a jurisprudential rule that essentially states that a professional rescuer, such as a fireman or a policeman, who is injured in the performance of his duties, "assumes the risk" of such an injury and is not entitled to damages. However, firemen, police officers, and others who, in their professions of protecting life and property, necessarily endanger their safety do not assume the risk of all injury without recourse against others. A professional rescuer may recover for an injury caused by a risk that is independent of the emergency or problem he has assumed the risk to remedy. A risk is independent of the task, and the assumption of the risk rationale does not bar recovery, if the risk-generating object could pose the risk to the rescuer in the absence of the emergency or specific problem undertaken. On the other hand, "dependent" risks arise from the very emergency that the professional rescuer was hired to remedy. The assumption rationale bars recovery from most dependent risks except when (1) the dependent risks encountered by the professional rescuer are so extraordinary that it cannot be said that the parties intended the rescuers to assume them, or (2) the conduct of the defendant may be so blameworthy that tort recovery should be imposed for the purposes of punishment or deterrence.
The injured party, Officer Gann, responded to a domestic disturbance at a residence. When the husband violated a restraining order, Officer Gann attempted to handcuff him. She tried a police maneuver in order to restrain the husband, who was drunk. When the husband moved, Officer Gann struck her knee on a vehicle. As a result, she suffered a fracture. She later filed an action against the husband and the insurer. When judgment was rendered in favor of Officer Gann and her spouse, an appeal was filed.
Was Officer Gann’s recovery barred by the Professional Rescuer's Doctrine?
In reversing, the court determined that the trial court failed to address the applicability of the professional rescuer's doctrine. Under the doctrine, the injured party was allowed to recover for an injury caused by a risk that was independent of the emergency or problem that she assumed the risk to remedy. The injured party was not allowed to recover for a dependent risk unless it was so extraordinary that it could not have been said that the rescuers intended to assume them, or the conduct was so blameworthy that tort recovery should have been imposed for punishment. Since neither of these exceptions applied, Officer Gann was precluded from recovery.