Demonstration of the immunity controversy
I chose this case since it demonstrates the immunity controversy that has raged on for many years even after Congress passed the Voluntary Protection Act (1997). Since the passage of the law, there have been numerous contentions regarding the entitlement of the emergency response agencies and individual volunteers to the immunity provided by VPA. These discrepancies have put the law under intense scrutiny. As a result, there have been calls for further amendments to specify when immunity from torts and damages arises from the act or omission. Junkins v. Glencoe Volunteer Fire Dept. is, therefore, an ideal example that will further highlight the debates related to the law.
Specifics of the Case
On November 1, 1996, Mike Junkins (plaintiff) filed a case at the Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama against Glencoe Volunteer Fire Department and the City of Glencoe (defendants). The plaintiff sued the defendants for the damages arising from a fire in his house. On November 14, 1992, the Glencoe Volunteer Fire Department responded to a fire at the plaintiff’s house and helped to put off the furnace. The following day, the plaintiff reported another fire incidence at his house, and the Fire Department responded and contained it (Casetext, n.d.). Junkins sued the defendants, complaining that they were negligent in putting out the fire in the first instance, thus allowing the furnace to reignite. The plaintiff sought compensation for further property loss and mental anguish, which he alleged were caused by the second inferno.
Court Decision and Opinion
The bone of contention, in this case, is whether the Fire Department is entitled to immunity for damages arising from torts or omissions in the execution of their duty, or the defendants were executing a government function in reference to § 11-89-15, Ala. Code 1975. The defendants filed a brief in which they argued that they had entitlement to statutory immunity from the plaintiff’s claim (Casetext, n.d.). The court delivered a ruling in favor of the plaintiff based on various grounds. First, the jury argued that in accordance with Bass v. SouthTrust Bank of Baldwin County, the court established that the movant failed to substantiate his claims so that the defendants could respond to the allegations despite the Fire Department presenting evidence. Therefore, there was no negligence, and the latter was not absolved from immunity.
The delivery of the verdict
The court, in delivering its verdict, also argued that the furnishing of fire protection by a district is a governmental function. Therefore, the district was not liable for any tort whether willful or negligent committed by any agent, director, servant, or employee. In this respect, the defendant was one of the thirteen departments that entered into an agreement with The Etowah County Commission under Amendments 432 (1982) and 445 (1984) to provide fire protection services (Casetext, n.d.). As a result, the defendant was not liable for the damages alleged by the plaintiff as they were acting on behalf of the government and not the district. The jury unanimously agreed that they would not interpret the law in a manner that renders it meaningless.
Based on the issues raised by the plaintiff and the provisions of VPA and the guiding state statutory, I disagree with the court’s ruling. In affirming the ruling, the court ultimately based their judgment on Section 11-89-15 which prohibits action against a fire district, adding that overturning the district court’s ruling to favor the plaintiff would diminish the funding channeled to the Glencoe Volunteer Fire Department from the Etowah County Fire District. Although the ruling was also informed by § 11-89-15, Ala. Code 1975, the court did not fully take into account the provisions of both statutes when a government duty is delegated to a third part. This ruling sets a bad precedent for other cases of similar nature.
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