Ingram v. Peachtree South, Ltd., 73573

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
Citation355 S.E.2d 717,182 Ga.App. 367
Docket NumberNo. 73573,73573
Decision Date12 March 1987

Roy E. Barnes, Marietta, Jerry A. Landers, Jr., Alanta, for appellants.

J. Kenneth Moorman, Atlanta, for appellee.


Plaintiffs appeal from the grant of defendant's motion for summary judgment. The genesis of this appeal was a fire that occurred on defendant's premises, then 175-177 Peachtree Street, in the late afternoon of July 15, 1981. Two of the four plaintiffs were firemen who were injured while fighting the blaze. They sought damages for the injuries they received, pain and suffering, medical expenses, loss of wages and permanent disability and impairments. The other two were the firemen's wives, who sought damages for loss of consortium.

The two firemen, and another who was killed but is not involved in this appeal, responded to an alarm around 6:00 p.m. They entered the building and, on information as to location of the flame, walked upstairs to the third floor where they found a small trash fire. They went to a window and requested a booster hose to extinguish the then manageable flame. Before any action was taken the fire erupted into an inferno. Unable to escape, the firemen fell or jumped to the street below and suffered injuries.

Later investigation revealed the fire was caused by a vagrant who had used gasoline and wood pieces to fuel the flame. He was apprehended and convicted of arson.

After answering, defendant moved for summary judgment. There was extensive discovery, a large portion of which centered on the building's condition and the knowledge of the respective parties. Plaintiffs adduced proof that the building had been vacant for several years, was poorly maintained, outside doors had been removed, windows were broken and the building had become a habitat for street people. There had been a small fire in the building some time prior to the July 15 fire. An earlier occupant had stored flammable materials on the premises, which had wooden floors. Defendant countered with testimony that the building had been maintained as required by the city code and fire inspectors; that, in any case, the plaintiffs as firemen had equal knowledge as to the condition of the building, a former fire and as to the prior storage of flammable materials on the premises.

After a hearing, the trial court ruled that the plaintiffs, as firemen, were owed a duty as licensees by the defendant. Finding the proof established no breach of that duty, the trial court entered judgment for defendant.

Plaintiffs argue that the trial court erred in casting firemen as licensees as a matter of law. They especially urge that firemen do not fit the definition of licensees as set forth in OCGA § 51-3-2, particularly (a)(3). Further, they contend the firemen's rule is antiquated and should be abolished.

Georgia has adopted the position that a fireman's status as to the landowner whose property he comes upon in order to fight a fire is that of a licensee. Todd v. Armour & Co., 44 Ga.App. 609, 162 S.E. 394 (1931); Baxley v. Williams Constr. Co., 98 Ga.App. 662, 669, 106 S.E.2d 799 (1958); Abney v. London Iron, etc., Co., 152 Ga.App. 238, 262 S.E.2d 505 (1979), affirmed by London Iron, etc., Co. v. Abney, 245 Ga. 759, 760, 267 S.E.2d 214 (1980).

In view of the statutory language defining a licensee, it would perhaps be more appropriate to state, as does the Restatement of the Law of Torts (2nd ed.) § 345, p. 228, that firemen are sui generis but treated "on the same footing as licensees."

In some jurisdictions firemen have been accorded the status of invitees. See Dini v. Naiditch, 20 Ill.2d 406, 170 N.E.2d 881 (1960). But this trend announced in Prosser, Torts (4th Ed.), p. 398, has apparently almost extinguished itself, see Prosser and Keeton, Torts, (5th Ed.) p. 432. Dini, predicted to be the wave of the future, has been severely limited by a rule which may be described as virtually universal. See Washington v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 66 Ill.2d 103, 5 Ill.Dec. 143, 361 N.E.2d 282 (1977). Basically, the principle is that while a fireman may recover for negligence independent of the fire, a landowner is not liable for negligence in causing the fire. As an oft-cited case holds, one "cannot complain of negligence in the creation of the very occasion for his engagement." Krauth v. Geller, 31 N.J. 270, 274, 157 A.2d 129, 131 (1960). This has been extended to acts causing the fire which may be described as wilful and wanton. Hubbard v. Boelt, 28 Cal.3d 480, 169 Cal.Rptr. 706, 708, 620 P.2d 156, 158 (1980). BART v. Superior Court, 113 Cal.App.3d 1018, 170 Cal.Rptr. 390, 391 (1980).

Under this authority the status of invitee or licensee, if pertinent at all, only comes into play in determining what duty is owed the fireman with regard to events extrinsic to the fire's inception.

Although the Georgia cases have not formally adopted this rule, the clear tenor of the cases is its recognition. Our cases have dealt with defective conditions on or near the scene of the fire. It appears accepted that the cause of the fire itself is not relevant, the emphasis being upon whether the landowner kept the premises up to the standard of care owed to a licensee. If there was no breach of that duty there was no liability to a fireman.

"The owner or occupier of premises may not wilfully or wantonly injure a licensee. 'Since his presence as a result of his license is at all times probable, some care must be taken to anticipate his presence, and ordinary care and diligence must be used to prevent injuring him after his presence is known or reasonably should...

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11 cases
  • White v. Edmond, 91-8903
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • September 4, 1992
    ...caused the fire.' " Id. (citing Flowers v. Sting Sec., Inc., 62 Md.App. 116, 488 A.2d 523, 532 (1985)). In Ingram v. Peachtree South, Ltd., 182 Ga.App. 367, 355 S.E.2d 717 (1987), the Court of Appeals of Georgia confirmed the applicability of the Fireman's Rule under Georgia law. Ingram inv......
  • Martin v. Gaither, A95A1246
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • December 5, 1995
    ...the fire.... [O]ne 'cannot complain of negligence in the creation of the very occasion for his engagement.' " Ingram v. Peachtree South, 182 Ga.App. 367, 368, 355 S.E.2d 717 (1987). The trial court was correct in stating that the fireman's rule has not yet been applied to police officers in......
  • Wilbanks v. Echols, A93A0486
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • June 25, 1993
    ...extrinsic to the fire's inception, the next step is to ascertain what duty the defendants owed to him. See Ingram v. Peachtree South Ltd., 182 Ga.App. 367, 368, 355 S.E.2d 717 (1987). It has long been the rule in Georgia that firefighters who come upon land or enter premises in their profes......
  • Long v. Marion, 73547
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • March 12, 1987
    ......     Appellants Long and Import Performance Centre, Ltd., brought an action against appellee Marion seeking to ......
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