Tuesday, December 3, 2013 A North Bangor firefighter injured when an allegedly drunk colleague flipped a fire truck can move toward trial with his claim that the fire company’s lax attitude toward drinking on duty led to the crash, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence Stengel refused to dismiss a claim by firefighter Stuart Mintz that the North Bangor Fire Company, Chief Frederick Farleigh and President Christopher Louszko put Mintz at risk by allowing a drinking culture to flourish in the firehouse.
Mintz suffered a serious shoulder injury in July 2010 when Assistant Fire Chief Zachary Romano, then 20, rolled a fire tanker while negotiating a turn on the way back to the firehouse from a parade. Attorneys for Mintz and his wife and the fire company did not immediately return calls Monday.
Romano, Upper Mount Bethel Township, where the fire company is located, and township officials are also named as defendants in the suit.
Although Mintz’s lawsuit originally argued Romano’s actions violated his constitutional rights to be free from injury, the judge rejected the claim, saying that a government employee must intentionally cause an injury for such a claim to succeed.
In a new complaint filed in July, Mintz added a claim that his injuries were the result of a “state created danger.” He alleged fire officials were to blame for the crash because they created “a custom and policy” of allowing firefighters to drive firetrucks after drinking.
Addressing a motion by the fire officials to dismiss the claim, Stengel wrote in a decision issued last week that Mintz’s allegations show the crash was foreseeable, that fire officials willfully disregarded the danger, that the fire company had a responsibility for Mintz’s safety and that a misuse of authority led to the crash.
Under court procedures, a judge must assume a plaintiff’s allegations are true when considering a motion to dismiss, although the defendants can disprove them later in the case.
Mintz alleged the fire officials knew about Romano’s history of alcohol abuse and that he would be in charge of the company’s activities at the parade where alcohol would be consumed.
“The plaintiffs sustained injuries when defendant Romano lost control of the tanker truck, which certainly is a foreseeable result of drunk driving,” Stengel wrote.
Mintz also alleged the fire company’s officers were aware that firefighters had been operating fire trucks while drunk for at least five years before the crash. “To ignore or fail to stop this practice would appear to be deliberate indifference,” Stengel wrote.
Stengel also noted that the risk created by the fire officials’ failure to stop Romano from driving drunk was foreseeable, particularly because Mintz allegedly was ordered to ride in a vehicle driven by an intoxicated firefighter.
Finally, Stengel found that the fire company’s custom of allowing firefighters to drink before operating firetrucks combined with Romano’s promotion to assistant chief and leadership on the day of the crash were affirmative acts that contributed to the crash.
Police found open beer cans rolling around the cab of the tanker Romano crashed three miles from the firehouse while returning from the Tatamy firefighters parade, according to a report.
Romano, now 23, was charged with drunken driving after the crash in Plainfield Township. Police alleged he had a blood-alcohol content of 0.16 percent, eight times the limit for drivers under the legal drinking age of 21.
State court files contain no record of how Romano’s charges were resolved. Because none of the charges rose above a misdemeanor and he was a first-time offender, Romano may have qualified for the accelerated rehabilitative disposition program, which would allow his record to be expunged.