Legislature(2003 - 2004)

05/18/2003 10:45 AM JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= 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.                                                                           

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