Investigators recently determined that the massive Back Bay fire which took the lives of two Boston firefighters on March 26, 2014 was caused by errant welding sparks from an unpermitted job at the adjacent property at 296 Beacon Street. Ordinarily, a permit is required to perform welding work at residential or commercial construction job sites. When a welding permit is pulled, the Fire Department inspects the work site to determine whether proper safety precautions are being taken, and to determine whether a fire department detail should be present during the job for fire safety. Preliminary reports and a lawsuit filed by the owner of the destroyed Beacon Street property, allege that the company performing the welding job, D & J Ironworks, Inc. of Malden, which was dissolved as a corporation in 2005, and again in 2010, did not pull the proper permit, and did not have proper safety oversight for the job. The lawsuit also personally names the welding company’s owner, Giuseppe Falcone, and Oliver Realty, Inc., the building management at 296 Beacon Street. The defendants have denied allegations that as a result of cutting corners on safety procedures, sparks made their way from the welding job at 296 Beacon Street, into the boards of the adjacent property at 298 Beacon Street, unnoticed, where they ignited the massive fire. And while the lawsuit focuses on the property damage claims of the building owner, two firefighters were also tragically killed in the fierce blaze.
Firefighters are exposed to danger every day, inherent in the work they do. In Massachusetts, firefighters, police officers and other public servants injured in the line of duty may receive benefits receive under M.G.L. Ch. 41 Section 100 and Section 111F, a statutory scheme akin to worker’s compensation, providing lost wages and medical bill coverage for those rendered unable to perform their duties. The statute specifically provides that if a firefighter is injured on the job- for example, a car runs a stop sign and collides with a fire truck causing injuries to those in the truck, the injured firefighter may collect benefits under Ch. 41 Section 111F, and also pursue a civil liability claim against the driver of the car. The firefighter would be required to pay back the municipality any benefits received under section 111F out of a settlement or verdict, and would be entitled to the remainder as compensation for the firefighter’s injuries.
In addition, a firefighter injured or killed responding to a fire, although danger is inherent to the line of work, may be entitled to bring a claim against a person or entity for negligently starting the fire, if the fire caused the firefighter to initiate rescue and he or she was injured as a result. This is known as the “rescue doctrine,” and while contrary to the law in many states, it is the fair and just system in place in Massachusetts. The rescue doctrine has been characterized as follows: “negligence which creates peril invites rescue and, should the rescuer be hurt in the process, the [person responsible] will be held liable not only to the primary victim, but to the rescuer as well.” Hopkins v. Medeiros, 48 Mass. App. Ct. 600 (2000). In Hopkins, the Massachusetts Appeals Court held that a police officer responding to an emergency call could recover damages against a man who incited another to resist arrest, starting a melee in which the officer was injured while attempting rescue of other officers. “To be considered a rescuer, an individual must engage in a proactive attempt to free another from danger.” Id at 603. A firefighter running into a burning building to attempt rescue of any occupants would likely fit this description.
Firefighters face many different types of danger each and every day. A firefighter who is injured in the line of duty may be entitled to more than the benefits provided by M.G.L., Ch. 41, Sections 100 and 111F.
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