Apodaca v. Willmore, No. 111,987

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Kansas
Writing for the CourtThe decision of the court is delivered by Beier, J.
Parties Juan A. APODACA, Appellant, v. Mark WILLMORE, Matthew Willmore, and Oak River Insurance Company, Appellees.
Decision Date14 April 2017
Docket NumberNo. 111,987

392 P.3d 529

Juan A. APODACA, Appellant,
v.
Mark WILLMORE, Matthew Willmore, and Oak River Insurance Company, Appellees.

No. 111,987

Supreme Court of Kansas.

Opinion filed April 14, 2017


Roger D. Fincher, of Bryan, Lykins, Hejtmanek & Fincher, of Topeka, argued the cause and was on the brief for appellant.

Joel W. Riggs, of Larson & Blumreich Chartered, of Topeka, argued the cause, and Craig C. Blumreich, of the same firm, was on the brief for appellee.

The decision of the court is delivered by Beier, J.:

In this appeal from summary judgment granted to the defendants in district court, we decide whether to extend a common-law tort doctrine known as the firefighter's rule to law enforcement officers.

We hold that the firefighter's rule first enunciated by this court in Calvert v. Garvey Elevators, Inc. , 236 Kan. 570, 694 P.2d 433 (1985), should be extended to law enforcement officers. We therefore affirm the Court of Appeals decision and the judgment of the district court.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND DISTRICT COURT PROCEEDINGS

The facts and district court litigation underlying this appeal are described completely and effectively in the Court of Appeals decision, and we incorporate that recitation:

"At about 3:30 a.m. on October 18, 2009, in Riley County, Matthew Willmore was driving his father's 1998 Ford F-150 pickup north on K-177, which is a four-lane highway separated by a grassy median. Less than a mile north of Interstate 70, Willmore fell asleep at the wheel and rolled the pickup across the median. The truck eventually came to a stop on its wheels, blocking the southbound lanes of the highway. Willmore—who was 18 years old at the time of the accident—had drunk several beers at a friend's house earlier that night.

"David McGillis, who was also driving north, witnessed the accident and stopped to assist Willmore. After Willmore exited the pickup truck, he walked to the median where he spoke with McGillis. Willmore then attempted to move the truck but found that it would not start. Although it was dark outside and there were no lights illuminating the highway, Willmore turned off the truck's headlights. He called his parents to inform them of the accident and then began picking up debris from the highway.

"In response to a 911 call from McGillis, a dispatcher for the Riley County Police Department (RCPD) advised officers Juan Apodaca and Jonathan Dulaney—who were patrolling together—about the traffic accident. The dispatcher told the officers that the location of the accident was north of Interstate 70 on K-177 and that the vehicle involved in the accident was in the southbound lanes of the highway. Officer Apodaca acknowledged to the dispatcher that the accident was north of Interstate 70. The dispatcher also informed the officers that nobody was injured in the accident.

"Officer Apodaca drove to the accident scene—with Officer Dulaney in the passenger seat—at a high rate of speed with his emergency lights and sirens activated. Officer Apodaca saw the headlights and flashers from McGillis' vehicle—that was parked on the center-edge of the northbound lanes—from over a mile away, and he believed it was the scene of the accident. Officer Apodaca did not see the disabled pickup in the southbound lanes and struck it while travelling 104 mph. The second accident occurred at 3:42 a.m.

"Around 6 a.m., an evidentiary breath test revealed that Willmore's breath alcohol content was .103. During an interview conducted by a RCPD investigator about 5 months after the accident, Officer Apodaca acknowledged that the dispatcher had told him that the accident was north of Interstate 70 and that the truck was blocking the southbound lanes. But the officer stated
392 P.3d 533
that for some reason he envisioned the accident scene being south of Interstate 70. Officer Apodaca did not recall the dispatcher telling him that no one was injured in the accident. Instead, Officer Apodaca stated that he was driving at a high rate of speed because he believed someone may have been injured.

"As a result of the accident, both Officer Apodaca and Officer Dulaney suffered serious injuries. They applied for and received workers' compensation benefits. On October 17, 2011, the officers filed a joint petition in Shawnee County District Court, alleging that Willmore's negligence caused them to suffer personal injuries and related damages. The officers also asserted a claim of negligent entrustment against Willmore's father. A few months later, Oak River Insurance Company—the liability carrier for the RCPD—intervened as a party to the lawsuit.

"On March 22, 2013, Officer Apodaca, Officer Dulaney, and Oak River Insurance Company filed a motion for partial summary judgment concerning the Willmores' claims of comparative fault. One week later, the Willmores also filed a motion for summary judgment. Among other things, the Willmores argued that the firefighter's rule barred all the officers' claims. Shortly thereafter, Officer Dulaney dismissed his claims against the Willmores.

"On March 13, 2014, the district court entered a memorandum decision and order denying the motion for partial summary judgment filed by Officer Apodaca and Oak River Insurance Company but granting summary judgment in favor of the Willmores. In its decision, the district court found that the ‘[firefighter's] rule should be and is extended to law enforcement officers.’ Accordingly, it concluded that the firefighter's rule barred Officer Apodaca from recovering in this negligence action because he was acting within the scope of his duties as a law enforcement officer at the time of the accident.

"Officer Apodaca filed a motion for reconsideration and, for the first time, asserted that Willmore's actions in causing the initial accident were willful, wanton, reckless, or intentional. In an order entered on May 27, 2014, the district court denied Officer Apodaca's motion, concluding ‘that the grounds for judgment under K.S.A. 60-259(f) are not presented’ and that there ‘has been no intervening change in the controlling law, no new evidence which was previously unavailable and there is no manifest injustice to correct.’ Moreover, the district court found that the arguments presented in the motion were either ‘an attempt to revisit issues already addressed or advance arguments that could have been raised in prior briefing.’ " Apodaca v. Willmore , 51 Kan.App.2d 534, 535–37, 349 P.3d 481 (2015).

The remaining plaintiff, Apodaca, appealed to the Court of Appeals, and Judge David E. Bruns wrote for a unanimous panel of the Court of Appeals, affirming the district court. We accepted this case on petition for review.

DISCUSSION

We open with a recitation of the familiar standard of review for summary judgment decisions.

"When the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, summary judgment is appropriate. The district court is required to resolve all facts and inferences that may reasonably be drawn from the evidence in favor of the party against whom the ruling is sought. When opposing a motion for summary judgment, an adverse party must come forward with evidence to establish a dispute as to a material fact. In order to preclude summary judgment, the facts subject to the dispute must be material to the conclusive issues in the case. On appeal, we apply the same rules as the district court." Apodaca , 51 Kan.App.2d at 538 [349 P.3d 481] (citing Stanley Bank v. Parish , 298 Kan. 755, 759, 317 P.3d 750 [2014] ).

As the Court of Appeals acknowledged, summary judgments should be granted with caution in negligence cases. See

392 P.3d 534

Fettke v. City of Wichita , 264 Kan. 629, 632, 957 P.2d 409 (1998). An exception to that general rule applies when the only question presented is one of law. See Honeycutt v. City of Wichita , 251 Kan. 451, Syl. ¶ 8, 836 P.2d 1128 (1992) ("In a negligence action, summary judgment is proper if the only questions presented are questions of law."); see also KNEA v.State , 305 Kan. 739, 748, 387 P.3d 795 (2017) (when reviewing pure question of law, " ‘no additional facts need to arise or be developed in the record’ "). And the issue of whether the firefighter's rule should be extended to law enforcement officers is such a question. Questions of law are reviewable de novo on appeal. See Martin v. Naik , 297 Kan. 241, 245, 300 P.3d 625 (2013) (citing Thomas v. Board of Shawnee County Comm'rs , 293 Kan. 208, 220–21, 262 P.3d 336 [2011] ).

Legal Context of the Firefighter's Rule

The firefighter's rule prevents an injured firefighter from recovering when his or her injury was caused by the wrong that initially required his or her presence in an official capacity at the scene. It "prohibits firefighters from suing the person who was negligently responsible for causing the fire or other hazard for injuries they suffer in responding to and quelling that hazard, subject to several exceptions." Apodaca , 51 Kan.App.2d at 538, 349 P.3d 481. In order to determine whether the rule should be extended to law enforcement officers such as the plaintiff in this case, we must first examine the legal context of the rule.

A party suing to recover for a tortfeasor's negligence must prove the...

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20 practice notes
  • Sepega v. Delaura, SC 19683.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • September 26, 2017
    ...808rule, severely limited its application, or have not addressed it at all.12 167 A.3d 930See Apodaca v. Willmore , 306 Kan. 103, 114, 392 P.3d 529 (2017). We have not been able to find, and the concurrence does not point to, any evidence that there has been an effect on the residents in th......
  • Ed Dewitte Ins. Agency, Inc. v. Fin. Assocs. Midwest, Inc., No. 115,126
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • September 21, 2018
    ...conclusive issues in the case. On appeal, we apply the same rules as the district court.’ " Apodaca v. Willmore , 306 Kan. 103, 105-06, 392 P.3d 529 (2017). Resolving this case requires us to interpret the statute of frauds. The interpretation and construction of a statute is a question of ......
  • Montgomery v. Saleh, Nos. 117,518
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kansas
    • March 30, 2018
    ...1090 (2016). In actions based on negligence, summary judgment should be granted with caution. Apodaca v. Willmore , 306 Kan. 103, 106, 392 P.3d 529 (2017) ; Fettke v. City of Wichita , 264 Kan. 629, 632, 957 P.2d 409 (1998). Summary judgment is proper when a plaintiff fails to establish a p......
  • State v. Roat, Nos. 113
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • June 19, 2020
    ...claim.This court has long designated bringing a suit for negligence to be a "right." See e.g., Apodaca v. Willmore , 306 Kan. 103, 392 P.3d 529 (2017) ; Vorhees v. Baltazar , 283 Kan. 389, 153 P.3d 1227 (2007) ; O'Grady v. Potts , 193 Kan. 644, 396 P.2d 285 (1964) ; Vaughn v. Kansas City N.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
20 cases
  • Sepega v. Delaura, SC 19683.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • September 26, 2017
    ...808rule, severely limited its application, or have not addressed it at all.12 167 A.3d 930See Apodaca v. Willmore , 306 Kan. 103, 114, 392 P.3d 529 (2017). We have not been able to find, and the concurrence does not point to, any evidence that there has been an effect on the residents in th......
  • Ed Dewitte Ins. Agency, Inc. v. Fin. Assocs. Midwest, Inc., No. 115,126
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • September 21, 2018
    ...conclusive issues in the case. On appeal, we apply the same rules as the district court.’ " Apodaca v. Willmore , 306 Kan. 103, 105-06, 392 P.3d 529 (2017). Resolving this case requires us to interpret the statute of frauds. The interpretation and construction of a statute is a question of ......
  • Montgomery v. Saleh, Nos. 117,518
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kansas
    • March 30, 2018
    ...1090 (2016). In actions based on negligence, summary judgment should be granted with caution. Apodaca v. Willmore , 306 Kan. 103, 106, 392 P.3d 529 (2017) ; Fettke v. City of Wichita , 264 Kan. 629, 632, 957 P.2d 409 (1998). Summary judgment is proper when a plaintiff fails to establish a p......
  • State v. Roat, Nos. 113
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • June 19, 2020
    ...claim.This court has long designated bringing a suit for negligence to be a "right." See e.g., Apodaca v. Willmore , 306 Kan. 103, 392 P.3d 529 (2017) ; Vorhees v. Baltazar , 283 Kan. 389, 153 P.3d 1227 (2007) ; O'Grady v. Potts , 193 Kan. 644, 396 P.2d 285 (1964) ; Vaughn v. Kansas City N.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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