A divided Kansas Supreme Court on Friday limited the ability of police officers to sue for injuries suffered on the job.
In a 4-3 vote, the court extended an existing rule known as the “firefighter’s rule” to law enforcement officers.
The firefighter’s rule has been in place in Kansas since 1985.
“The firefighter's rule prevents an injured firefighter from recovering (damages) when his or her injury was caused by the wrong that initially required his or her presence in an official capacity at the scene,” the court described in Friday’s ruling. “It prohibits firefighters from suing the person who was negligently responsible for causing the fire or other hazard for injuries they suffer in responding to and quelling that hazard.”
On Friday, the Supreme Court ruled on the case of an officer in Riley County who was injured in 2009 while responding to a motor vehicle crash.
The officer filed suit against the driver who caused the crash.
But in 2014, a Shawnee County District Court judge ruled in favor of the driver, citing the firefighter’s rule because, “He (the officer) was acting within the scope of his duties as a law enforcement officer at the time of the accident.”
The Kansas Court of Appeals subsequently upheld the judge’s decision, and on Friday the Supreme Court upheld that decision.
There are several exceptions to the rule that would allow a firefighter or officer to recover damages.
Those exceptions are: If the individual responsible for the firefighter's presence engages in a subsequent act of negligence after the firefighter arrives at the scene; if an individual fails to warn of known, hidden dangers on his premises; or misrepresents the nature of the hazard where such misconduct causes the injury.
In its decision Friday, the court found that none of those exceptions applied in the Riley County officer’s case.
Justice Lee Johnson was one of the three justices who disagreed with the majority of the court.
In his dissent, Johnson called it an “unjustified expansion of the singularly arbitrary, capricious, and constitutionally suspect firefighter’s rule.”
“I fail to see the wisdom in denying an injured person a right to remedy based solely upon his or her job title,” Johnson wrote.