Sanders v. Alger – 6/16/2016

July 6, 2016

Sanders v. Alger (6/16/16): Arizona Court of Appeals Division Two holds that the firefighter doctrine does not apply to a state-funded in-home caregiver pursuing a negligence claim against a patient.

The Arizona Department of Economic Services paid an in-home caregiver to provide services to an elderly patient.  The patient had a risk of falling due to health issues and the caregiver was contracted to help with ambulation and transferring from a wheelchair.  While transferring from the wheelchair to a vehicle, the patient lost his balance and fell on the caregiver.  The caregiver sued the patient for negligence.  At trial the patient prevailed on summary judgment through application of the firefighter doctrine which provides that “the tort system is not the appropriate vehicle for compensating public safety employees for injuries sustained as a result of negligence that creates the very need for their employment.”  The caregiver appealed.

The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded.  It noted that the Arizona Supreme Court has not expanded the application of the firefighter’s rule beyond first responders.  The public policy concerns underlying the rule do not apply here because unlike a fire, the patient’s fall poses no broader danger to the public and is not necessarily caused by negligence.  Caregivers also do not enjoy the same level of compensation, training, and statutory protection as first responders.  The only argument supporting the application of the firefighter’s rule is that the caregiver assumed the risk, which is not sufficient to justify the complete bar of the rule.  The Court also held that because the assumption of risk is always a jury question under the Arizona Constitution, the caregiver’s contractual duty to assist the patient did not relieve the patient of a duty of care.

Chief Judge Eckerstrom authored the opinion; Judges Vásquez and Miller concurred.