The firefighter's rule, barring recovery for the negligence that creates the need for a public safety officer's service, does not apply to negligent conduct occurring after a police officer or firefighter arrives at the scene or to misconduct other than that which necessitates the officer's presence. Such misconduct may include failure to warn of pre-existing known but hidden dangers. The firefighter's rule does not bar recovery where a police officer is injured while performing a law enforcement activity unrelated to the violation that necessitated his presence at the scene.
A Delta Western employee left a fuel truck owned by Delta Western in a driveway. The keys were in the ignition, the door was unlocked, and the truck contained fuel and weighed over 10,000 pounds. Delta Western had a policy of removing the keys from the ignitions of its trucks. Delta Western enacted this policy because of past incidents involving the theft and unauthorized entry of its trucks. Joseph Coolidge, who was highly intoxicated, entered the unlocked truck and proceeded to drive around Dillingham. He ran cars off the road, nearly collided with several vehicles, and drove at speeds exceeding seventy miles per hour. Brent Moody, the chief of the Dillingham Police Department, was one of the officers who responded to the reports of the recklessly driven fuel truck. The driver of the van in which Moody was a passenger attempted to stop the truck after moving in front of it, but Coolidge rammed the van, throwing Moody against the dashboard and windshield. Moody suffered permanent injuries. Moody filed suit against Delta Western, alleging that the company (through its employee) negligently failed to remove the truck's keys from the ignition. In its amended answer, Delta Western argued that the "Firefighter's Rule" barred Moody's cause of action. The superior court granted Delta Western's motion, holding that the Firefighter's Rule bars police officers from recovering for injuries caused by the "negligence which creates the very occasion for their engagement." Moody appealed to the Supreme Court of Alaska.
Does the Firefighter's Rule apply in Alaska?
The Court held that the firefighter's rule reflected sound public policy and applied in Alaska. In the final analysis, the policy decision was that it would be too burdensome to charge all who carelessly caused conditions requiring a response by a public safety official with the injuries suffered by the expert retained with public funds to deal with those inevitable, although negligently created, conditions. Requiring members of the public to pay for injuries incurred by officers in such responses asked an individual to pay again for services the community had collectively purchased.