Morrison Law Journal
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The Morrison Law Journal
April 2017
Volume XII, Edition 4

When Truly Immune: Court of Appeal Rules That Fire Protection District Is Immune
From Claims Involving Injuries Arising From Accident At A Firefighting Facility Even
Though The Activity Which Caused The Accident Was Not Related To A Fire Remediation Effort

By: Edward F. Morrison, Jr., Esq.
Larry A. Schwartz, Esq.

In 1963, the California Legislature enacted Government Code §850.4 which generally provides immunity to public entities and their employees for firefighting activities.1 One question that has arisen is whether this immunity applies to an unsafe or dangerous condition at a firefighting facility which is unrelated to firefighting activities – and when an employee firefighter is injured due to such an unsafe or dangerous condition. The California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District has recently ruled that Government Code § 850.4 is to be broadly constructed and applies to the condition of the firefighting facility – even when the condition is unrelated to a firefighting effort. That decision was issued in Quigley v. Garden Valley Fire Protection District (2017) Westlaw 1399720 ("Quigley case").

In the Quigley case, Plaintiff Rebecca Quigley was part of a team that was assigned to assist with the "Silver Fire" which broke out in the Plumas National Forest in September 2009. The United States Forest Service initially managed the effort to fight the fire and set up a base camp at the Plumas County Fairgrounds. The base camp included a sleeping area for firefighters. The Plumas County Fairgrounds also has a racetrack with a large grassy infield. The Forest Service set up a shower unit on the infield. Fearing the fire might affect structures, the Forest Service called in a non-firefighting team, referred to as "Norcal 1", to assist in managing the fire and the basecamp. The individuals who worked for the non-firefighting team were all retired Forest Service employees who had since become employees of local fire agencies.

Plaintiff Rebecca Quigley was a Forest Service firefighter on a hot shift crew working the Silver Fire. On an evening during the course of her work, Plaintiff Quigley had been unable to find an area to sleep in the designated sleeping area and then slept in the infield in a sleeping bag with the permission of her supervisor. The infield was not roped off nor was there any signage warning that individuals were sleeping in that area. The first evening went without incident. The next evening, Plaintiff Quigley again was unable to find an area to sleep in the designated sleeping area and slept in the infield with

1 California Government Code § 850.4 provides in pertinent part:
"Neither a public entity, nor a public employee acting in the scope of his employment, is liable for any injury resulting from the condition of fire protection or firefighting equipment or facilities or, except as provided in Article 1…."



of Norcal 1 drove his water truck into the infield to service a shower unit there. The truck ran over the Plaintiff and crushed Plaintiff's chest, lungs, ribs and left shoulder and fractured her back.

Plaintiff sued the Garden Valley Fire Protection District, the Chester Fire Protection District and their employees claiming damages. The Trial Court granted nonsuit against the Plaintiff's Complaint on the basis that the Defendants were statutorily immune. On appeal, the Court of Appeal agreed that the Defendants were immune from liability based upon a broad interpretation of Government Code § 850.4. In construing Government Code § 850.4, the Court noted that the Legislature classified injuries into two groups: (1) any injury resulting from the condition of fire protection or firefighting equipment or activities or (2) subject to a specific exception, any injury caused in fighting fires. The Court ruled that the use of the disjunctive "or" meant that condition of a firefighting facility (in this case the infield) is embraced within the statute, even where the condition at issue is not related to a firefighting effort.

The Quigley case is significant in that it broadly construes firefighting immunity and could logically be extended to other statutory immunities for public entities.

About the Authors: Edward F. Morrison, Jr. is the founding partner and Larry A. Schwartz is Of Counsel to The Morrison Law Group, a professional corporation. Their biographies can be viewed at

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