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The West Fertilizer Plant and the Fireman’s Rule

The West Fertilizer Plant and the Fireman’s Rule

There have been some misstatements in the media about the fireman’s rule that indicate that the firefighters’ families involved in the West fertilizer plant have no viable claims for the injuries and deaths of their loved ones.

Under “the fireman’s rule,” claims for injuries made by firefighters are traditionally barred, because it is thought that the firefighters assumed the risks associated with the fire. There are notable exceptions to the rule, which seem applicable to fertilizer plant explosion. One is that “a firefighter may recover for injuries resulting from a risk arising from the emergency that he or she was hired to remedy if the conduct of the defendant was so blameworthy that tort recovery should be imposed for the purposes of punishment or deterrence.” See Energy XXI, GoM LLC v. New Tech Engineers, LP, 845 F.Supp. 770, 781 (S.D. Tex. 2012)

In the present case, the owner of Adair Grain was harboring undisclosed contents of ammonium nitrate that were 1,350 times that required for disclosure by the Department of Homeland Security. Any reasonable judge or jury should find such reprehensible conduct sufficiently blameworthy for a recovery. Moreover, those quantities would have had to been disclosed to the West Volunteer Fire Department in advance so that the WVFD would have known not to combat the flames once the building was evacuated, but have its firefighters stand as far away from this de facto dynamite factory as possible.