Police Can’t Sue for Injuries that Occurred During “Suicide by Cop”

Most of us will never forget the tragedy that occurred in 2012 when the Chief of the Greenland Police Department was killed as he and other officers tried to executed a search warrant at the home of Cullen Mutrie.  Mutrie engaged in a shootout with the police and, after killing the Chief, and injuring four other officers, he killed himself.  The four surviving officers  sued Mutrie’s mother, Beverly Mutrie, who owned the home.  Their theory was that Mutrie was responsible for the violence of her son because she allowed criminal conduct to occur on the property.

The problem for the officers is known as the “Firefighter’s Rule“.  What this law says is that public safety officials can’t recover for injuries that occurred in the line of duty for negligence that was directly related to that duty.  For example, if a firefighter is hurt fighting a fire, he can’t sue the person who accidentally caused the fire because it was that accident that required him to fight the fire in the first place.  On the other hand, if the firefighter is hurt in a car accident on the way to the scene of the fire, he can sue the person who caused the accident because it was unrelated to his duties.

The idea behind this rule is that public safety officials are already paid to risk their life in the course of their duties and so they should not be able to sue for risks inherent to their job.  One major exception to the “Firefighter’s Rule,” however, is that public safety officials can still sue for “reckless, wanton, or willful acts of misconduct.”  So, in the above example, if the fire was caused intentionally, or even recklessly, then the firefighter can sue the person who started it.

In this case, the injured officers claimed that Beverly Mutrie had acted recklessly by supplying her son with weapons, and allowing him to engage in criminal activity in her house.  They therefore said they should be able to sue her because she was more than just negligent. The problem, however, is that they did not have any real evidence to prove that she had supplied her son weapons or otherwise acted recklessly. So the court dismissed their lawsuit and the dismissal was upheld by the New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed.




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