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April 8, 2019

Property owner liable if a firefighter is injured in the line of duty due to the owner's failure to comply with law, rule or regulation that resulted in the injury


General Municipal Law §205-a "gives a firefighter . . . a right of action against any person whose negligent failure to comply with a government provision either  directly or indirectly results in injury" suffered in the "line of duty."

A city firefighter, who had sustained injuries in the course of performing firefighting duties when he "stepped onto a roof, slipped on the snowy surface and fell to the ground," and his spouse [Plaintiffs] sued the owner, [Defendant] alleging the Defendant was liable, citing General Municipal Law §205-a and General Obligations Law §11-106. Supreme Court granted the Defendant's motion and Plaintiffs appealed.

The Appellate Division ruled that Supreme Court properly granted Defendant's motion for summary judgment, explaining that while General Municipal Law §205-a "gives a firefighter . . . a right of action," to successfully make out such a claim, a plaintiff:

1. Must identify the statute or ordinance with which the defendant failed to comply;

2. Describe the manner in which the firefighter was injured; and

3. Set out the facts from which it may be inferred that the defendant's negligence directly or indirectly caused the harm to the firefighter.

In contrast, to succeed on a motion for summary judgment dismissing the plaintiff's action in this context, a defendant must show either:

1. Defendant did not violate any relevant governmental provision or;

2. If a relevant government provision was violated, that such violation did not directly or indirectly cause [the firefighter's] injuries."

Defendant had submitted his deposition testimony and the affidavit of an expert opining that Defendant's house contained no building code violations that contributed to the firefighter's injuries.

Plaintiffs contended that Defendant had violated statutory and building code provisions requiring all multifamily dwellings to contain fire-resistant enclosures at the base or top of stairways or both and that the lack of such enclosures contributed to the firefighter's injuries.

The court, however, observed that Plaintiffs' expert contended that Defendant violated provisions of these laws, but his opinions were based on assumptions without any explanation of how these laws were applicable in this instance.

Further, although Plaintiffs also assert that Defendant violated local ordinances by failing to obtain permits when certain work was performed inside the house, the Appellate Division noted that record does not indicate that any of those alleged violations caused or contributed to the firefighter's injuries.

Accordingly, the Appellate Division ruled that Supreme Court had properly determined that Defendant was entitled to summary judgment dismissing the complaint.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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