In a recent personal injury case before a California appeals court, the court considered whether the firefighter’s rule applied in a case involving the plaintiff’s fall at an architectural residence. The plaintiff was hired as a site representative for the defendant’s residence. A third party rented out the residence for an event. The plaintiff was giving a tour of the residence when he fell from a platform that was suspended over a hillside. He filed claims against the defendant property owner for negligence and premises liability. At trial, the property owner argued that he was protected under the “firefighter’s rule.” The court decided that the rule applied and instructed the jury accordingly, which found in the property owner’s favor. The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the firefighter’s rule did not apply in this case.
The doctrine of primary assumption of risk holds that, due to the nature of the activity involved and the parties’ relationship to the activity, the defendant does not owe the plaintiff a duty of care, thereby barring the plaintiff’s claims. The firefighter’s rule is a variation of the primary assumption of risk doctrine. The firefighter’s rule holds that a firefighter cannot hold liable members of the public who negligently started a fire. The rule also applies to police officers. The idea is that members of these professions knowingly undertake certain risks. The rule is applied to cases where the risk of injury is inherent in the plaintiff’s occupation, and the plaintiff is injured as a result of that inherent risk.
In this case, the property owner required that two site representatives be present when outside groups rented the house for events. The site representatives were hired by the outside group from a list of representatives approved by the owner. The site representatives were meant to ensure the safety of the house. The plaintiff had given hundreds of tours. On this night, many people came on a tour and crowded the platform. After he finished his talk, he moved to leave, and fell off the platform.
The property owner argued that primary assumption of risk applied because part of the plaintiff’s job included warning members of tours that the platform lacked guardrails and was dangerous. The court disagreed. The court held that the firefighter’s rule did not apply in this case. The plaintiff was not hired to manage the hazardous condition. The court explained that the plaintiff’s job was actually meant to ensure the safety of the residence during events. The court also held that the firefighter’s rule was inapplicable because the plaintiff was not hired to keep people from falling off the platform. Thus, the court held that the trial court improperly instructed the jury on the defense, and therefore, the court ordered a new trial.
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