Co-volunteer firefighter not immune from suit for volunteer's injury
Case name: Champagne v. American Alternative Insurance Corp., No. 12-51 (La. Ct. App. 06/20/12).
Ruling: The Louisiana Court of Appeal held that a volunteer firefighter was not immune from being sued by his co-volunteer who was injured while working.
it means: In Louisiana, workers' compensation does not provide immunity from a lawsuit to a co-volunteer firefighter.
Summary: A volunteer firefighter was testing fire hoses on a pumper truck when a hose wall blew out and the hose struck him in the head. He sustained a skull fracture and permanent mental injuries. He sued a fellow volunteer. The parties disputed whether the co-volunteer was immune from suit under the workers' compensation law. The Louisiana Court of Appeal held that the co-volunteer was not immune from the suit.
The court explained that in general, under the workers' compensation law, coworkers are immune from being sued for a worker's injury. The exclusive remedy of workers' compensation also provides immunity to a volunteer fire company. The co-volunteer argued that the intent of workers' compensation was to protect both the volunteer fire companies and their members from liability in a lawsuit. The co-volunteer also asserted that policy considerations dictated that a co-volunteer should be immune from a lawsuit.
The court pointed out that the clear and unambiguous language of the workers' compensation law regarding volunteer firefighters specifically limited the exclusive remedy to only the fire company. The court could not extend the law to eliminate the volunteer's suit against the co-volunteer.
The court recognized that its holding could make members of the community reluctant to act as volunteers for fire departments, but the issue should be addressed by the legislature.
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September 4, 2012
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