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Wis. SC: Volunteer firefighter not entitled to immunity in personal injury lawsuit

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Jul 11, 2013


MADISON, Wis. (Legal Newsline) -- The Wisconsin Supreme Court said in a ruling Tuesday that a volunteer firefighter who drove through a red light and ended up colliding with another vehicle is not immune from being sued.

Parnell Burditt was responding to an emergency call issued by the Okauchee Fire Department when he drove his truck through the stop signal into an intersection, where he collided with a vehicle carrying Marilyn Brown and Delores Schwartz.

Brown and Schwartz sued, alleging that Burditt negligently caused their injuries.

The Waukesha County Circuit Court granted summary judgment dismissing Burditt, the fire department and their insurers on the grounds that Burditt is shielded by public officer immunity and that his acts did not fall within the ministerial duty exception to that immunity.

The state Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court's ruling.

On appeal to the state's high court, Brown and Schwartz argued that Burditt was not acting within the scope of his employment as a volunteer firefighter when the collision occurred, thus placing him outside the class of individuals subject to public officer immunity.

Additionally, they argued that because Burditt acted contrary to a ministerial duty to stop at the stop signal, his acts fall within the ministerial duty exception to public officer immunity.

The state Supreme Court, in its 28-page opinion, concluded that Burditt was acting within the scope of his employment when the collision occurred.

However, it ruled that Burditt is not entitled to public officer immunity because his acts in proceeding through the stop signal without an audible signal violated a "clear" ministerial duty.

He therefore falls within that exception to public officer immunity, the court found.

"The 'rules of the road' statutes codified at Chapter 346 of the Wisconsin Statutes required Burditt to stop at the red stop signal because his vehicle lacked an audible signal," Justice Ann Walsh Bradley wrote for the court.

"Because Burditt's acts fall within the ministerial duty exception to public officer immunity, he is not shielded by immunity and summary judgment is not appropriate."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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