Nunez v. Professional Transit Management of Tucson, Inc. (2/23/2012)

February 28, 2012

Arizona Supreme Court Holds That Common Carrier Has the Duty to Exercise Only Reasonable Care, Not the Highest Degree of Care Practicable Under the Circumstances.

Linda Brown sustained serious injuries on a Tucson city bus operated by SunTran.  She sued SunTran and the bus driver.  At trial, SunTran requested the jury be instructed that common carriers have a duty to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances.  The judge rejected the request, instructing the jury that common carriers have a duty to exercise the highest degree of care practicable under the circumstances.  In a memorandum opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that case law required the highest degree of care instruction. 

The Arizona Supreme Court vacated the memorandum decision.  Noting that Arizona case law on a common carrier’s duty of care is “hardly a model of analytical consistency,” the Court reexamined common law duties of care.  The Court noted that although common carriers have a special relationship with passengers which gives rise to broader duties, including duties to protect passengers from risks created by a third party’s conduct, the common carrier’s duty of care is “essentially the same standard as any other alleged tortfeasor,” i.e., the duty to exercise “reasonable care.”  Accordingly, the Court rejected applying a heightened standard of care to common carriers, holding instead that the appropriate standard of care in a negligence action against a common carrier is the traditional reasonable person standard. 

The Court also rejected the argument that the abandonment of common carrier doctrine violated the anti-abrogation clause of the Arizona Constitution and also rejected the argument that the rule should be applied prospectively. 

Justice Hurwitz authored the opinion for the unanimous Court.