Historically, Louisiana law provided that a professional rescuer injured in the performance of his or her duties “assumes the risk” of an injury and is not entitled to damages. See Worley v. Winston, 550 So.2d 694, 696 (La. App. 2 Cir.), writ denied, 551 So.2d 1342 (La. 1989). This is known as the Professional Rescuer’s Doctrine and applied as a defense to claims raised by firefighters, policeman, and others. The doctrine prevented recovery because the professional rescuer “assumed the risk” of injury. Recently, the Louisiana Supreme Court in Doe v. McKesson, 2021-00929 (La. 3/25/22) rejected the doctrine as a bar to suit by the professional rescuer.
In Doe, the Supreme Court of Louisiana accepted a certified question from the Fifth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals as to the viability of the doctrine. In response, the Supreme Court held that the Professional Rescuer’s Doctrine has been abrogated in Louisiana both legislatively under La. C.C. art. 2323 and jurisprudentially in Murray v. Ramada Inns, Inc., 521 So.2d 1123, 1132 (La. 1988).
The Court cited La. C.C. art. 2323(A), which provides that the fault of “all persons […] shall be determined” in a civil action. Subsection (B) of the article provides this rule applies “to any claim for recovery of damages for injury, death, or loss asserted under any law or legal doctrine or theory of liability, regardless of the basis of liability.”
In Murray, the Supreme Court previously held that the doctrine of assumption of risk no longer had a place in Louisiana tort law following the adoption of comparative fault. Nevertheless, the Murray Court identified two exceptions:
- Cases “where the plaintiff, by oral or written agreement, expressly waives or releases a future right to recover damages from the defendant,” if “no public policy concerns would invalidate such a waiver, the plaintiff’s right to recover damages may be barred on a release theory;” and
- “[I]n the sports spectator or amusement park cases (common law’s “implied primary” assumption of risk cases).”
Murray, 521 So.2d at 1134. (internal citations omitted).
The Doe court observed that Murray provided no exception relative to professional rescuers. The Court further observed that, while the legislature had enacted statutes that bar plaintiff recovery in other settings, no such statute had been passed to codify the Professional Rescuer’s Doctrine.
Although professional rescuers injured in the performance of their duties may still be found at fault, the is no longer an automatic bar to suit.