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Are 1st Responders Liable for Rescues Gone Wrong?

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By Aditi Mukherji, JD on September 03, 2013 3:56 PM

When first responders come to the rescue, yet only make matters worse, can you sue them for your injuries? In many states, first responders are protected by sovereign immunity. In jurisdictions where it is possible to sue a first responder, the right is typically limited.

All in all, suing a first responder for a rescue gone awry is no easy feat.

Sovereign Immunity

Sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine that says that the government and its employees cannot be sued without its permission. Generally, unless your state has passed legislation that waives sovereign immunity and permits a private citizen to sue a state-employed first responder, you have no legal means to sue a first responder.

Several states have not waived their sovereign immunity with respect to lawsuits against state-employed first responders. Just because a state has waived its sovereign immunity, or a person was injured by a private first responder to whom sovereign immunity does not apply, it doesn't mean that he or she can automatically sue a first responder.

Limited Immunity

Many states permit lawsuits against first responders, but significantly restrict the situations in which they may occur. This is to encourage first responders to provide aid without fear of being sued by injured victims.

In many states, you can sue first responders only if they acted in bad faith or were grossly negligent. In such states, there is often a legal presumption of good faith and proper conduct. The presumption places a heavy burden on the victim and makes it particularly difficult to succeed in these types of lawsuits.

Since the law on first responder liability varies greatly state by state, the best way to find out whether you can sue a state-employed first responder is to take a look at your state code. If you think your case works with the law in your state, your best bet is to contact an experienced personal injury lawyer in your area.

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