Can a Police Officer Bitten by Another Police Officer’s Dog Sue?

December 3, 2015 10:58 pm Published by

Farnam v. State of California, 84 Cal.App.4th 1448, 101 Cal. Rptr. 2d 642,
101 Cal.Rptr.2d 642 (2000)

Can a police officer sue another policing agency such as the California Highway Patrol if bitten by a dog from the other agency?

No.

When a police officer is bitten by another police officers dog, can the police officer bring a lawsuit against the other officer and win?

No.

FACTS

Defendant Morrison, a CHP officer, was handling a police dog. Plaintiff Farnam, was a Los Alamitos police officer. They were pursuing a suspected felon. When the suspect was stopped Morrisson came to the scene with his dog. When Morrisson arrived he stepped out of his car and was holding the dog in a choke collar. Plaintiff Farnam was standing by the suspect’s car with a gun that he was pointing at the suspect. The dog broke free of his handler and mistook plaintiff Farnam for the suspect and bit him. The trail court threw the case out on a summary judgment motion. Plaintiff appealed.

COURT’S RULING

The court relied heavily on Knight v. Jewett (1992) 3 Cal.4th 296, 11 Cal.Rptr.2d 2, 834 P.2d 696, where the California Supreme Court held, that in cases involving primary assumption of risk by the ature of the activity and the parties’ relationship to the activity, the defendant owes no duty to protect the plaintiff from the particular risk of harm that caused the injury. This doctrine is a complete defense. The court stated that it applies to not just sport injuries, but also to work related injuries, often cited as the “firefighter’s rule.” the firefighter’s rule was first adopted in California in Giorgi v. Pacific Gas & Elec. Co. (1968) 266 Cal.App.2d 355, 72 Cal.Rptr. 119.
The “firefighter’s rule” can be misleading because it appears to relate to situations involving fires or firefighting, but such is not the rule. The same rule has been applied in Hubbard v. Boelt (1980) 28 Cal.3d 480, 169 Cal.Rptr. 706, 620 P.2d 156, where a police officer was injured while attempting to arrest a person speeding; and in Herrle v. Estate of Marshall (1996) 45 Cal.App.4th 1761, 1765, 53 Cal.Rptr.2d 713 where a nurse’s aide that was employed specifically to care for violent patient was attacked and injured. Similarly the same rule has also been labeled the “veterinarian’s rule,” but it is just another application of the firefighter’s rule in a different context. (Nelson v. Hall (1985) 165 Cal.App.3d 709, 714, 211 Cal.Rptr. 668.

Public safety employees are employed to handle the very hazard that causes the injury, and they receive special public compensation for being exposed to the dangers caused by the defendants’ negligence. The firefighter’s rule is founded on a public policy decision to compensate the officers collectively through tax-generated revenue and not through individual negligence actions which would overburden the courts. Relying on other cases the court of appeal described a multi part test to examine each particular situation. It stated that public safety officer’s primary responsibility is to protect the public. If duty is imposed to other officers then there is a substantial potential for conflicting duties. (2) When there is a joint operation involving public safety officers from different agencies the agencies are to be encouraged. When the firefighter’s rule is not applied it could seriously compromise public safety during joint operations. (3) When the rule to claims between officers from different agencies is not applied it would fly in the face of a critical public policy underlying the firefighter’s rule, which is to spread the cost. (4) there is no rational reason to impose liability solely because the plaintiff and defendant wore different badges and uniforms when the risk of injury is the same. In this case there was an attempt to apprehend a felon, an activity that poses danger not only to the officer but also to the public. Plaintiff and defendant shared the objective to effect an arrest. Because the officers owed a duty of care to the public they did not owe a duty of care to each other. The hazard posed by the police dog is inherent in to this particular job. The primary assumption of risk bars the claim.

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This post was written by Orange Dog Bite Attorney

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