Minnich v. Med-Waste, Inc.
349 S.C. 567, 564 S.E.2d 98 (2002)
Minnich worked for a hospital as a public safety officer.
As part of his job, he was helping load medical waste into a truck owned
by Med-Waste. The truck started to roll down the hill. Minnich jumped
inside to try to stop the truck. He was injured during his action. He sued
Med-Waste for negligence.
Med-Waste claimed that Minnich's suit was barred by the firefighter's
The firefighter's rule states that firefighters
who enter another's property willingly in order to fight a fire are to be
considered licensees, and as such, the property owner only owes
the firefighter a duty to refrain from "wanton, willful, and reckless
So, even if a firefighter is injured fighting a fire
that was negligently started by the property owner, that firefighter
cannot recover tort damages.
See Gibson v. Leonard (143 Ill. 182, 32 N.E. 182
(Ill.1892)), which originated the rule.
Med-Waste asked the South Carolina Supreme Court a certified
question as to whether or no the firefighter's rule could be
used as a defense in this case.
Although the case was brought in a Federal Court, since
the Federal Court had to apply South Carolina State law, they asked the
South Carolina Supreme Court how they would rule on this abstract
question, as opposed to just guessing. This is called a certified
The South Carolina Supreme Court found that the firefighter's
rule could not be used as a defense in this case.
The South Carolina Supreme Court found that South
Carolina negligence laws adequately address negligence claims arising out
of injuries incurred by firefighters (and other public safety people)
during the discharge of their duties. Therefore, they didn't need to keep using the common-law firefighter's rule.
The Court noted that the rule was being applied differently in
different jurisdictions throughout the US, and in many jurisdictions it
is being abolished. Therefore it was just confusing and unnecessary.
Although South Carolina abolished the rule, there are a number of rationales for keeping the firefighter's
Firefighters are volunteers who have assumed the risks
inherent in their profession.
Injuries to firefighters are already compensable via
Liability from injuries to firefighters is better borne
by the public rather than individual property owners.
Firemen enter at unforeseen times and go into unforeseen
areas not open to the public, so it is not reasonable to require treating
them as invitees or licensees.
In a way, the rule asks the landowner to pay twice. Since
the landowner pays property taxes for the benefit of having fire
protection, it isn't just to require them to pay again when there is an