Fire departments in the United States understand the importance of residential smoke alarm installation programs in helping to save lives. However, a number of them have expressed concerns about implementing such programs because of the potential for being held liable if a fire leading to property loss, injury or death should occur after installing smoke alarms.
These concerns are addressed in a new report from the Network for Public Health Law, No Reported Cases in the United States Hold Nonprofit Organizations, Including Fire Departments, Liable for Damages as a Result of Smoke Alarm Installation, that answered a key question:
Do reported cases in the United States hold nonprofit organizations, volunteer organizations, local governments, or fire departments liable for damages — such as fire damage, death, or injury – that are caused by a fire that occurred after the organization installed smoke alarms?
After comprehensive research, it was reported:
Our research identified no cases — at any level — holding nonprofit organizations, volunteer organizations, local governments, or fire departments liable for damage or injury associated with installation of smoke alarms in non-public housing.
The study goes on to report that there are at least three states, Arkansas, Connecticut, and Delaware, that provide specific liability exemptions for fire departments and several other states address the liability concerns.
In Arkansas, volunteer firefighters may not be found civilly liable for injury or damage ‘resulting from any act or omission in the installation of a smoke alarm provided free of charge’ absent intentional misconduct. The statute additionally protects board members and administrative personnel for the acts and omissions of personnel.
Connecticut’s immunity statute exculpates fire departments that install smoke alarms or batteries at residential premises. The statute applies when the installation (1) complies with manufacturer instructions and (2) occurs within the course of the department’s official capacity. The term “fire department” in the statute encompasses municipal, independent, and volunteer fire departments and companies.
Delaware similarly provides immunity from liability for non-profit organizations, municipal governments, and fire departments that distribute or install smoke detectors for free.
While not specifically addressing smoke alarm installation, some states provide statutory immunity for a fire department’s failure to provide — or method of providing — fire protection services. It is unclear whether such statutes cover smoke and fire alarm installation. Some other states provide immunity for fire department activities in addition to fire protection services. Georgia, for example, provides immunity for any volunteer conducting a ‘safety program.’ including those related to home safety and fire hazards.
These are important findings that may help address the liability concerns of fire departments and non-profit organizations involved in installing residential smoke alarms. The full report is available from the Network for Public Health Law at https://www.networkforphl.org/_asset/4cttgz/Report_Smoke-Alarm-Installation-Liability-7-3-19.pdf