Legislature(2003 - 2004)
05/18/2003 10:45 AM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 198 - DAMAGES RECOVERED BY POLICE/FIREFIGHTER Number 1089 CHAIR McGUIRE announced that the next order of business would be CS FOR SENATE BILL NO. 198(STA), "An Act relating to recovery of civil damages by a peace officer or fire fighter; and providing for an effective date." Number 1081 SENATOR RALPH SEEKINS, Alaska State Legislature, sponsor, said that SB 198 revises the common law known as the "fire fighter's rule." Currently, this common law precludes fire fighters and police officers from recovering civil damages for injuries caused by any negligent act inflicted while on duty. However, it doesn't distinguish between negligent acts requiring the fire fighter or peace officer's response and negligent acts that are unrelated to the reason the fire fighter or peace officer was required to respond. SENATOR SEEKINS offered the following example: Under current common law, a police officer is precluded from suing for damages suffered as a result of being struck by a drunk driver during the course of transporting a prisoner to the courthouse, even though the drunk driving - the negligent act - is unrelated to the duty the officer is performing. In such a situation under SB 198, however, the police officer would be able to sue for damages. If a peace officer is injured while pursuing a drunk driver, though, under SB 198 the peace officer would still be precluded from bringing suit, because such injuries would have occurred in the line of duty. He characterized SB 198 as a good, commonsense bill, which will allow firefighters and peace officers, and their employers, to recover damages that they are currently unable to recover. CHAIR McGUIRE called SB 198 a good bill, and mentioned that she introduced similar legislation. SENATOR SEEKINS noted that his example of an officer being hit by drunk driver while transporting a prisoner was "a thumbnail of a real case." CHAIR McGUIRE relayed that in Moody v. Delta Western, Inc., the Alaska Supreme Court upheld the current common law with regard to damages sustained during the course of duty, but with the caveat that one shouldn't be preempted from seeking damages for any unrelated act of negligence. She surmised that SB 198 simply clarifies that opinion. In response to a question, she also surmised that if fire fighters are called to the scene of a fire and then are shot at by snipers, they would not be able to recover damages. REPRESENTATIVE GARA said he is worried that they would be limiting the rights of fire fighters and police officers too much. He asked whether subsection (a) of SB 198 still allows an injured fire fighter or peace officer to receive worker's compensation and/or insurance benefits. CHAIR McGUIRE and SENATOR SEEKINS said yes. REPRESENTATIVE GARA offered the example of a fire fighter being struck by a drunk driver on the way to or from a fire. He said he is worried that the language in SB 198 might not be sufficient to accomplish the sponsor's goals Number 0760 MITCHELL GRAVO, Lobbyist for Anchorage Police Department Employees Association (APDEA), indicated that the APDEA is comfortable that SB 198 does accomplish the sponsor's goals. SENATOR SEEKINS observed that subsection (b) says, "this section does not apply to a negligent act or omission that is unrelated to the activity that created the need". The negligent act or omission referred to in subsection (b) is one which is in no sense related to the reason the fire fighter or police officer is at a particular location at a given point in time. REPRESENTATIVE GARA indicated that his concern is satisfied. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG noted that "fire fighter" is defined in SB 198, but does not include state fire fighters. He asked Senator Seekins whether he would be amenable to an amendment to include state fire fighters in the definition. SENATOR SEEKINS relayed that "forestry service personnel" are not looked at as falling under the current definition of fire fighter, or as falling under the current "fire fighter's rule." Thus, if forestry service personnel are struck by a drunk driver on the way to a forest fire, they are not now precluded from recovering damages. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG asked Senator Seekins whether he would be amenable to an amendment that would clarify this. SENATOR SEEKINS opined that such an amendment would not change how the courts will interpret the bill. Number 0471 REPRESENTATIVE GARA moved to report [CSSB 198(STA) out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying zero fiscal note]. There being no objection, CSSB 198(STA) was reported from the House Judiciary Standing Committee.