Why Do Firefighters Get Sued?

Lawsuits involving fire departments, firefighters, fire chiefs and firefighter unions are unfortunately commonplace. It is important to gain a better understanding of the legal challenges facing the fire service in a measurable way. This information provides insight into the liability and leadership challenges facing fire services, and helps these operations to better understand how to carry out their duties while avoiding the common sources of liability and lawsuit.

As you familiarize yourself and your operation with these common causes of claims, take a look at your current insurance coverage, and make sure that you would be protected in the event of any or these claims. It’s not enough to only having a General Liability insurance policy; in order to be fully protected, other policies such as Commercial Auto and Management Liability insurance may be necessary.

Types of Cases

The main categories of cases are administrative, criminal and civil. They break down as follows:

  • Administrative cases include any non-judicial proceeding (disciplinary actions, state Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proceedings, contractual grievances, unfair labor practice complaints);
  • Criminal cases occur when a firefighter is charged criminally for job-related conduct, they are the least common form of cases;
  • All other cases are categorized as civil, which are the most common.

The largest number of cases involved career fire departments, then combination departments, and volunteer departments. Non-fire EMS, state fire academies, and other non-fire emergency organizations are rarely involved with lawsuits.

Civil Cases

Civil suits most commonly involve an employment-related issue, alleged violation of constitutional rights, negligence, battery, or defamation.

The following are other reasons for civil cases in order from most common to least:

  1. Wrongful death
  2. Firefighter fatalities
  3. Collective bargaining
  4. Alleged violation of First Amendment rights
  5. Breach of contract

Employment Cases

Over half of civil cases are employment-related; the majority involving allegation of race discrimination, which many include reverse race discrimination cases. Other employment cases include sexual harassment and disability discrimination.  Uncommon but existing employment cases include age discrimination and discrimination based on union affiliation and religious discrimination.

Tort Actions

Negligence has been found to be by far the most common tort allegation, followed by recklessness, intentional infliction of severe emotional distress, product liability suits, battery, defamation, false imprisonment and/or false arrest and abandonment.

Incident-Related Suits

Types of incident related claims from most common to least:

  1. Structure fires
  2. EMS incidents
  3. Apparatus accidents
  4. Hazardous materials incidents
  5. Technical rescue incidents
  6. Dispatching
  7. Fire prevention problems
  8. Helicopter crashes that killed personnel

Criminal Cases

The criminal cases are based on on-duty or job-related charges brought against firefighters. The most common criminal charge filed against firefighters was theft, then arson, then manslaughter.

Administrative Cases

Administrative cases often involve:

  • Sexual assault allegations against on-duty firefighters who take their apparatus to and participated in sexual festivities;
  • On-duty drinking in a firehouse that led to a felony assault;
  • Theft of a radar detector from a wrecked automobile at an accident they responded to;
  • Collective bargaining arbitration.

About Provident FirePlus

At Provident FirePlus, we offer custom tailored packages to best protect firefighters and volunteer firefighters. We understand the risks that emergency response teams are subjected to on a daily basis, and have worked to serve these dedicated professionals for over 87 years. For more information about our products and policies, we invite you to contact our experts today at (855) 201-8880.