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Failure To Comply with Fire Department Operating Guidelines May Defeat Statutory Immunity

In the case of Freeman v. Lovejoy, 2023-Ohio-503, an appellate court held that a genuine issue of fact existed for a jury to decide as to whether a firefighter was acting recklessly when driving a fire engine given the visual and sound obstructions in the area and number of lanes of travel the firefighter was crossing, thereby, triggering the R.C. 2744.03(A)(6)(b) exception to the statutory immunity afforded to the firefighter.

In this case, an injured motorist argued that the motorist’s injuries were caused by the firefighter operating the fire engine in violation of the fire department’s suggested operating guidelines alleging that the firefighter failed to maintain a speed consistent with the safe operation of the vehicle under the prevailing wet road conditions, failed to use due regard for other drivers on the road, failed to travel through a multiple lane intersection at such speed into and through the intersection that the engine would be able to stop immediately if necessary, and failed to ensure all other traffic at the multiple lane intersection was able to yield given the visual and sound obstructions in the area. In response, the firefighter argued that no reasonable juror would conclude that the firefighter acted recklessly while responding to an emergency.

In support of its decision in support of the injured motorist, the appellate court explained that the question of whether a person has acted recklessly is almost always a question for the jury and issues of statutory immunity turn on the individual facts of any given case. As a result, the appellate court concluded that, after viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the injured motorist, reasonable minds could come to different conclusions about the firefighter’s operation of the fire engine given the visual and sound obstructions in the area and the number of lanes of travel the firefighter was crossing and such conclusions must be determined by a jury in this case.

NOTE: It appears that the outcome of this case may have been much different had there not been a factual dispute as to whether the firefighter violated the fire department’s own operating guidelines.

To read this case, click here.

Authors: Matthew John Markling and the McGown & Markling Team.

Note: This blog entry does not constitute – nor does it contain – legal advice. Legal jurisprudence is like the always-changing Midwestern weather. As a result, this single blog entry cannot substitute for consultation with a McGown & Markling attorney. If legal advice is needed with respect to a specific factual situation, please feel free to contact a McGown & Markling attorney.

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