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Fireman’s Indemnification Statute: Conn. Gen. Stat. § 7-308

BPS is here to serve our clients during this COVID-19 crisis. Pursuant to Governor Lamont’s Executive Order, legal services are essential services. Whether or not we are in our offices, Brown Paindiris & Scott, LLP Lawyers are available by email, phone and video conference. Read More.

August 13, 2009

Firefighter & his Dalmatian at a Parade

The Fireman’s Indemnification Statute, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 7-308, provides for the assumption of liability by a municipality for damages caused by firemen or volunteer ambulance members. Section 7-308 is an indemnification statute that requires a municipality to pay on behalf of any paid or volunteer fireman all sums that the fireman becomes obligated to pay as damages by reason of liability incurred while performing fire duties.[1]

The term “fire duties” is defined in Conn. Gen. Stat. § 7-314 to include duties while at fires, answering or returning directly from fires, participation in fire drills or parades, or going to and returning directly from fires, drills or parades.[2] For the term “fire duties,” the statute makes no distinction between fires and parades. Engaging in such fire duties are public, governmental duties which afford the protection of governmental immunity.[3]

Although governmental immunity is not a defense to indemnification under § 7-308, that is only so if the individual defendant is found liable. The indemnity obligation under the statute imposes no direct liability on municipal defendants. The municipality’s obligation will arise if the plaintiff can first show the individual liability of the defendant firefighter.[4]

The analogous statute, § 7-465(a), which provides for indemnification of municipal employees, states in relevant part that any town, city or borough, notwithstanding an inconsistent provision of law shall pay on behalf of any employee of such municipality, except firemen covered under the provisions of § 7-308, all sums which such employee becomes obligated to pay.

In Tryon v. Town of N. Branford, 58 Conn. App. 702 (2000), the defendant firefighter’s dog bit plaintiff, a volunteer firefighter, while in a parade staging area. Alleging negligence and strict liability, the plaintiff sued the defendant firefighter. Alleging vicarious liability, she also sued his supervisor, employer, the town, and groups that sponsored or organized the parade. The trial court granted summary judgment for all defendants[5] except one not involved in the appeal.

The following facts in Tryon were not disputed. On September 17, 1995, the plaintiff, a firefighter in uniform, attended the 1995 Connecticut State Fireman’s Convention Parade held in Jewett City. The defendant, Rush Turner III (Turner) was a volunteer firefighter with the defendant North Branford Fire Department, and the owner and keeper of the dog that bit the plaintiff. Turner participated in the parade as a member of the fire department. With the permission of his supervisors, Turner brought his dog, a Dalmatian, along with him to the parade.

Prior to the commencement of the parade, Turner and his dog were in the staging area for the parade, which was located on a street adjacent to the parade route. Just before the plaintiff approached the dog, one of the firefighters in the staging area waved a bagel in front of the dog. The dog attempted to jump at the bagel but was prevented from doing so because Turner had a tight grip on the dog’s leash. Thereafter, according to the deposition testimony of Turner, the plaintiff approached the dog, grabbed its ears, “digging her fingernails tight behind the dog’s ears,” and pulled and jerked he dog’s face toward her own. The dog bit the plaintiff in the nose, causing the plaintiff to lose part of her nose. According to Turner, the incident happened so fast that there was nothing he could do to stop the plaintiff’s actions.

In September 1996, the plaintiff brought an action against twelve separate defendants seeking damages for her injuries. The plaintiff alleged strict liability under the Dog Bit Statute, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22-357, and common law negligence and indemnification pursuant to § 7-308. The defendants filed three separate motions for summary judgment, all alleging that they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the basis of governmental immunity.

The trial court granted all three motions for summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The trial court concluded that at the time of the dog bite incident, Turner was performing a governmental duty of a discretionary nature and was therefore entitled to qualified governmental immunity. The court also concluded that the plaintiff failed to prove that she qualified for an exception to this immunity, which exception permits an action where the circumstances make it apparent to municipal employees that their failure to act would likely subject an identifiable person to imminent harm.

The trial court also concluded that § 22-357, which imposes strict liability on an “owner or keeper” of a dog who bites an individual, does not apply to a municipal employee who is immune from liability for discretionary acts performed in the course of his duties and whose conduct does not fall within any of the exceptions to governmental immunity.

On appeal the plaintiff claimed that the trial court improperly concluded, as a matter of law that she failed to prove that she was an identifiable person subject to imminent harm so as to come within an exception to the doctrine of governmental immunity. The Connecticut Supreme Court has construed this exception to governmental immunity to apply not only to identifiable individuals but also to narrowly defined identified classes of foreseeable victims. The discrete person/imminent harm exception to the general rule of governmental immunity for employees engaged in discretionary activities has received very little recognition in this state.

If a firefighter recovers benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act, he cannot thereafter also recover from a fellow fireman. In Kirchhoff v. Quincy Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 2004 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3781, the plaintiff fire chief was involved in an accident with a volunteer firefighter when the two were responding to a call. The court held that the plaintiff’s claims were barred by § 7-308, and his sole source of recovery was pursuant to workers’ compensation.[6]

In the parallel case, Kirchhoff v. Quincy Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 2006 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2171, the defendant Quincy Mutual Fire Insurance Company filed a motion for summary judgment in the plaintiff insureds action for uninsured/underinsured benefits. In responding to an accident, one of the insureds, a fire chief, was struck by a volunteer firefighter, an uninsured motorist. The court found that inasmuch as it had been determined in a parallel action that the insureds were not entitled to recover damages from the volunteer because they were barred pursuant to § 7-308, the insureds could not be legally entitled to uninsured/underinsured coverage from the insurer under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 38a-336(a)(1). Consequently, the insurer was entitled to summary judgment.

[1] Rowe v. Godou, 209 Conn. 273, 276 (1988).

[2] See Collins v. Milford, 15 Conn. App. 84, 87 (1988) (discussing whether a volunteer fireman was engaged in fire duties when returning from a parade for purposes of worker’s compensation).

[3] See Brock-Hall Dairy v. New Haven, 122 Conn. 321, 324-25 (1937).

[4] See Wu v. Fairfield, 204 Conn. 435, 438 (1987) (applying the same standard under § 7-465).

[5] The defendants were Rush Turner III (Turner), the North Branford Fire Department, North Branford Fire Department No. 3, and the town of North Branford (North Branford defendants); and 100 th Anniversary Committee, The A.A. Young, Jr. Hose & Ladder Co. No. 1 of Jewett City, the borough of Jewett City and the town of Griswold (100 th Anniversary Committee defendants). Rush Turner, Jr. was also a defendant.

[6] Conn. Gen. Stat. § 7-308 states in pertinent part that “if a fireman … has a right to [worker’s compensation] by reason of injury … caused by the negligence or wrong of a fellow employee while both employees are engaged in the scope of their employment for such municipality, such fireman … shall have no cause of action against such fellow employee to recover damages for such injury … unless such wrong was willful and malicious.”