New York Court of Appeals Extends Immunity to Fire Districts for Ordinary Negligence of Volunteer Firefighters
By Paul V. Esposito
In a split decision, New York’s highest court has shielded fire districts from liability for the ordinary negligence of volunteer firefighters involved in emergencies. Anderson v. Commack Fire Dist., 2023 N.Y. LEXIS 649 (4/20/23). Plaintiff alleged that a firefighter acted negligently by driving through a red light in response to an alarm. The majority noted that a fire district’s liability for a firefighter’s negligent conduct is vicarious only. Because a statute grants a privilege, under defined circumstances, for firefighters to disregard traffic laws in emergencies, they do not breach a duty for which a district may be held vicariously liable. The ruling gives districts the ability to let firefighters take calculated—though not reckless—risks where life is on the line. The dissent argues that the ruling upsets the legislatively created balance of interests among firefighters, districts, and injured persons.