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The firefighter’s rule�which immunizes property owners from liability for personal injuries suffered by police officers and firefighters in the line of duty�does not similarly shield a suspected pot smoker who led a Connecticut police officer on a chase through the woods where the officer fell from a rock ledge and suffered severe injuries. In so ruling, the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld on Feb. 24 a jury’s $147,535 verdict in favor of East Lyme, Conn., police officer James Levandoski and against the suspect, Douglas Cone. It also rejected Cone’s bid to extend the rule to nonproperty-owner defendants. Levandoski v. Cone, No. SC 16843. Pot pursuit Responding to a complaint about a loud party, Levandoski and his partner arrived at a private residence to find a group of people playing basketball to loud music. According to the court, the officers also heard one partygoer announce that the police had arrived. Levandoski then saw people discard cans and saw Cone put plastic sandwich bags in his pocket. Assuming the bags contained marijuana, Levandoski asked Cone to take them out. Instead, Cone ran into the woods. Levandoski chased him onto an adjacent property but just as Levandoski was about to grab Cone, the officer fell from a ledge onto some rocks, dislocating his hip and injuring a knee. After Levandoski successfully sued Cone, Cone appealed, arguing that the common law rule barred Levandoski’s recovery. The rule treats firefighters and police officers as licensees rather than invitees when they enter private property in performance of their duties. While invitees can rely on an implied representation of safety, licensees are protected only by a landowner’s duty not to injure them willfully or wantonly. Rejecting Cone’s theory, the state Supreme Court cited the public policy reasons behind the rule. It observed that firefighters and police often enter private property without the owner’s consent. According to the court, because those landowners finance police and fire protection through tax payments, exposing them to additional tort liability would amount to double liability. “To avoid this potential for double liability, in taxes and tort,” the court said, “most courts have concluded that the public as a whole, rather than individual landowners, should bear the foreseeable losses incurred when firefighters or police officers are injured in the performance of their duties.” The court concluded that extending the rule to nonlandowners such as Cone would be contrary to its purpose.

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