As General Counsel to the 8,000-plus member New York City Uniformed Firefighters Association, we are fully aware how these true heroes of our society place themselves in harm’s way to protect the lives and property of our citizens. Over the years Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavo P.C. has obtained millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements in cases where firefighters’ lives were unnecessarily placed in jeopardy because of poorly designed or maintained buildings or as a result of defective firefighting equipment. The firm’s interest in this area of the law does not stop with the litigation of individual cases.
In 2016 the firm won a $183 million verdict for three injured firefighters and the families of two deceased firefighters in the “Black Sunday Fire” case.
The firm’s interest in this area of the law does not stop with the litigation of individual cases.
Over the years, Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavo P.C. has been instrumental in shaping legislative designed to fully compensate firefighters and their families for the harm they have suffered through the fault of others. Indeed, the firm was instrumental in having Congress pass legislation establishing the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) and then had the honor of representing 363 firefighters and families of deceased firefighters in the original September 11th Victim Compensation Fund securing more than $265 million for them, and not charging any legal fee earning the firm the National Law Journal’s 2004 Pro Bono Award.
Following the closure of the VCF in 2003, the firm went on to bring suit on behalf of 675 firefighters and first responders sickened by their exposure to toxins at the World Trade Center disaster site. The suit was brought in Federal Court against the City of New York and its contractors for failing to provide these brave individuals with proper respiratory equipment.
In 2010, SPBMC secured a $100 Million-plus settlement for its clients.
SPBMC’s work for 9/11 victims did not stop there. Since the reopening of the VCF in 2011, the firm has secured more than $1 billion in awards for its clients.
1 Defendants eventually agreed to settle and pay more than $72 million to the five firefighters and their families.
Building violations can cause fires and endanger firefighters in the line of duty. Building violations often directly or indirectly result in firefighters sustaining serious injuries. Unfortunately, citations for code violations are not always issued to the buildings where fires erupt. Identifying the codes that were violated takes expertise and knowledge of the law — both of which you will find with the injury lawyers at Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavo P.C. (SPBMC).
In 1935 the New York State Legislature enacted General Municipal Law Section 205-a. This law gives firefighters or their families the right to file a lawsuit and seek recovery for damages when they suffer injuries or death as the result of a violation of any statute, code, regulation, or rule recognized by the jurisdiction where the accident occurred. The legislature intended the statute to be remedial for the protection of firefighters. The statute was to be broadly and liberally construed and applied.
Firefighters could recover for injuries, and their families, in the event of death, sustained in the line of duty which were “directly or indirectly” caused by any violation that had any “practical or reasonable” connection to the injury.
While the General Municipal Law intended to provide additional rights and protections to firefighters, many courts began to dilute the effect and purpose of General Municipal Law §205-a. Over several years the courts began to interpret the law in a narrow manner. As a result, many firefighters were unfairly subjected to limitations on the right to sue even though those restrictions were not stated in the statute.
One of these judicial restrictions was the “firefighters’ rule”. The courts prohibited firefighters from filing a lawsuit for injuries suffered on the job, even if someone else’s negligence led to the injuries. The law specifically singled out firefighters, while workers in other lines of work retained the right to sue negligent parties outside of the workplace.
The courts reasoned that firefighters assumed the risks of their job. Simply put, because firefighters chose to be firefighters, they and their families could not sue for injuries or death caused by the inherent risks of a dangerous job.
In response to the “firefighters’ rule”, New York legislators amended General Municipal Law §205-a in 1996. The legislature affirmed that firefighters within the state of New York receive broad protections under the statute. It clarified that firefighters could sue responsible parties under the statute when injured in the line of duty. The amendments clarified the statute to make it clear that a recovery was allowed even if the accident involved the usual risks of being a firefighter. Today, many court decisions affirm firefighters’ rights to even collect damages for on-the-job injuries or death suffered due to negligence or the violation of any law.
The New York State Legislature also enacted General Obligations Law §11-106 to overturn the firefighters’ rule. Under this law, firefighters can file a claim for common law negligence against responsible parties without concerns over the defense raised by the firefighters’ rule, except for fellow firefighters and employers.
The first city to adopt a building code was Baltimore in 1859, in response to dangerous conditions in buildings that led to rapid fires and death. Since then, many agencies and groups have developed significant building code milestones.
Firefighters or their families often name landlords and building owners in their line of duty injury lawsuits. The building codes and fire maintenance statutes are vital to protecting not only the residents of a building, but also the lives of the first responders. Without proper emergency exits, sprinkler systems, and other necessary safety fixtures, firefighters have a greater risk of injury and death than they would if working in a building that met all applicable codes.
Certain exemptions apply to the above regulations, but for the most part, buildings must comply with these regulations. Many other codes, standards, and ordinances apply to the maintenance and safety of buildings in New York State. There may be additional specific regulations depending on the municipality where the premises is located.
These codes are vital for building safety. They can also provide grounds for firefighters’ lawsuits involving line of duty injuries. New York State follows federal, state, and municipal codes regarding fire safety that firefighters can use in their lawsuits. It is important to know and understand how these codes and laws apply to establish a basis for recovery under §205-a. Speak with an attorney at Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavo today to discuss what codes are applicable to your injury and whether there is a violation that provides grounds for a lawsuit.