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OFF BEAT: Volunteer firefighter can sue homeowner for icy driveway


CONCORD, N.H.—Putting aside the irony of suffering an ice-related injury at the scene of a fire, New Hampshire’s highest court has ruled that a volunteer firefighter who hurt himself on a slick driveway while fighting a January 2008 blaze can sue the homeowner for negligence.

Jason Antosz, a former volunteer for the Epping, N.H., fire department and currently a state representative 9th district, sued Epping resident Doree Allain in Rockingham County Superior Court in 2008 for negligence, alleging that Ms. Allain’s driveway was “in an unsafe and unreasonable condition as a result of the defendant’s failure to remove snow and ice from it.”

A lower court rejected the lawsuit, citing state laws that bar firefighters from pursuing legal action for injuries suffered while on the job.

In his appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, Mr. Antosz argued that state law does not apply to volunteer firefighters, nor does it apply to the injury itself because it was unrelated to the fire.

A three-judge panel last week agreed unanimously that the trial court incorrectly applied the so-called “fireman’s law” to Mr. Antosz’s case because his allegations against Ms. Allain did not arise “from negligent conduct which created the particular occasion for the firefighter's official engagement.”

The state high court remanded the case to the lower court for further action.

Noting that other jurisdictions have come to opposing conclusions on whether similar “fireman’s laws” can be applied to volunteer firefighters, the court declined to decide that matter in Mr. Antosz’s case.

“Because we conclude that the plain language of (the law) does not bar Mr. Antosz’s negligence claim, we need not decide whether the statute applies only to claims by paid firefighters,” Justice Carol Ann Conboy wrote in the court’s opinion.