Sunday, August 25, 2013

Police officer sues woman who called 911 alleging she had a duty to warn the cop would be facing a dangerous situation

Here is a story about the most ridiculous lawsuit of the year so far, although not as ridiculous as the case filed a couple of years ago alleging damages caused by bad mothering (see here).

In this new case, a police officer in Texas was injured when he responded to a 911 call.  He then filed a lawsuit against the caller claiming she failed to adequately warn the 911 operator of the dangerous situation the cop was walking into.  Read the story here.

In the newspaper account, the defendant's lawyer calls the lawsuit frivolous.  I agree.  The generally accepted rule for cases like these is that those who take on the responsibilities of jobs that require putting oneself in danger when called to action assume the risk inherent to the job.  Typically, this is referred to as the "fireman's rule" because it was originally developed to explain why firefighters should not be allowed to sue those who negligently caused fires.

The same policy reasons apply to police officers.  First of all, there is the notion of assumption of the risk.  People who opt to work in dangerous jobs know or should know of the risks involved and assume those risks.  Second, the fact that the job carries risks is reflected in the compensation the officers and firefighters receive for taking those risks.  (If they are underpaid, that is another problem, but not one that ought to be solved by spreading the costs of the accident to the victim who has to call 911 for help).  Third, if the people who need help can be sued, there is going to be a disincentive for them to ask for help, thus defeating the purpose of creating a 911 service to begin with. 

The one argument that can be made in support of a claim like the one used in this case is that assumption of the risk is an outdated doctrine that should be abandoned in favor of comparative negligence.  I have no problem with that argument, but even if we take that position, the case here is frivolous.  In order to support the claim, the plaintiff has to support the argument that the defendant was negligent and arguing that the victim of a crime or someone who calls 911 is negligent for not warning the police that the situation is dangerous is absurd.  Reasonable people would not disagree on this.  The case should be dismissed immediately.