Fire Service Court: SOGs versus SOPs

In this column, members of the FDIC legal expert panel will respond to reader-submitted written questions related to legal issues. We will try to answer as many questions as possible, and in some instances, we will refer readers directly to attorneys in their home states. To submit a legal question, CLICK HERE. Every reader is reminded that the answers the attorneys in this column provide are generic in nature, and do not constitute specific legal advice, since each state may have different legal standards that apply. Always consult a licensed attorney in your home state.

Does it make a difference, to avoid liability, for a department, to use the term “standard operating guideline” (SOG) instead of “standard operating procedure” (SOP)?

Response by everyone on the panel: No.

Chip Comstock: “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, it is a duck.” Regardless of what you call your procedure, an attorney will try to use the document in a court of law if there has been a deviation from the procedure which directly resulted in an injury.

However, there are still ways to protect your department in light of new court cases and attacks on departments by aggressive lawyers. Please refer to Brad Pinskys article in the March 2009 edition of Fire Engineering magazine, “NIMS Directives and Liability.” Also, check out the Fire Service Court column, “Implementing SOGs,” for elaboration on the distinction between SOGs and SOPs.

Chip Comstock has been an attorney for 20 years and is a partner in the law firm of Comstock, Springer, and Wilson, LPA, in Youngstown, Ohio. A 25-year veteran of the fire service, he is the chief of the Western Reserve Joint Fire District in Poland, Ohio. He lectures extensively on fire service topics related to company officer operations, liability, and personnel issues. His articles have appeared in Fire Engineering and many other fire service magazines.

Subjects: Fire service legal issues, firefighters and the law, liability, standard operating procedures, standard operating guidelines

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