Sanders v. Alger – 6/1/2017

July 7, 2017

The Arizona Supreme Court holds that, for purposes of a negligence claim, a patient owes a duty of reasonable care to a caregiver allegedly injured by the patient’s actions.

A caregiver was assisting a patient with moving from a wheelchair to a car.  In the process, the patient fell on the caregiver, seriously injuring her.  The caregiver sued the patient for negligence.

The patient asserted that she did not owe a duty of care to the caregiver and that the firefighter’s rule—that a rescuer cannot recover in negligence for harms that occurred while the rescuer was performing duties as a professional rescuer—barred the caregiver’s recovery.  The trial court agreed that the firefighter’s rule applied and granted summary judgment to the patient.  The court of appeals held that the firefighter’s rule did not apply and that the patient owed the caregiver “the basic duty that all persons owe each other.”

The Supreme Court agreed with the court of appeals that the patient owed a duty of care to the caregiver, but declined to decide whether all people have a duty to use reasonable care to avoid causing injury to others.  Instead, the Court held that a duty of care arose from the direct relationship between the parties.

The Court then ruled that the firefighter’s rule did not apply.  Unlike firefighters, the Court reasoned, caregivers are not “public safety employees” who are professionally trained, equipped, and compensated to rescue others.

Chief Justice Bales authored the unanimous opinion.