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Torts: Duty—Patient Has Duty of Care to Caregiver/Fireman’s Rule Inapplicable

Posted by Ted A. Schmidt | Jun 19, 2017 | 0 Comments

Torts 20caregiver

Sanders v. Alger, 766 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 22 (June 1, 2017) (J. Bales)

PATIENT HAS DUTY TO EXERCISE REASONABLE CARE INTERACTING WITH CAREGIVER BASED UPON CAREGIVER/PATIENT RELATIONSHIP & RESCUE RULE/CAREGIVER NOT A PROFESSIONAL RESCUER  ACTING IN RESPONSE TO AN EMERGENCY HENCE FIREMEN'S RULE NOT APPLICABLE

Plaintiff was hired by the Department of Economic Security [DES] to serve as a  caregiver for the defendant. While transferring from his wheelchair to the car the defendant fell on the plaintiff seriously injuring her. Plaintiff sued the defendant claiming he negligently placed himself at risk for falling causing her injury. The trial court granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment finding that based upon the firefighter's rule the defendant owed the plaintiff no duty. The Arizona Court of Appeals reversed finding that all persons owe all other persons a duty of care. The Arizona Supreme Court accepted the petition for review.

The supreme court found a more narrow basis for the duty than the court of appeals.  It held that a duty of reasonable care can flow from a “direct relationship” between parties. Here there was a direct and contractual relationship between the caregiver and defendant. If the defendant were to sue the caregiver for negligence the caregiver could assert contributory negligence. It is a small step from there to find the patient must exercise reasonable care in his direct relationship with the caregiver. 

The rescue doctrine further supports this finding.   Under the rescue doctrine, an actor who negligently imperils himself or herself may be liable to a person who is physically harmed in attempting to aid or protect the actor. Similarly, a patient who negligently imperils himself and or the caregiver can be liable for harm caused by that negligence. 

That said, the firefighter's rule does not apply here. The firefighter's rule is a narrow exception to the rescue doctrine.  The firefighter's rule says, "[a] rescuer who could otherwise recover cannot do so if she is performing her duties as a professional firefighter .  .  . The rule applies when a firefighter's presence at a rescue scene results from the firefighter's on -duty obligations as a firefighter." While here it is true the care giver was being paid by DES with public funds she was not a professional rescuer for which this rule was intended to apply.

About the Author

Ted A. Schmidt

Ted's early career as a trial attorney began on the other side of the fence, in the offices of a major insurance defense firm. It was there that Ted acquired the experience, the skills and the special insight into defense strategy that have served him so well in the field of personal injury law. Notable among his successful verdicts was the landmark Sparks vs. Republic National Life Insurance Company case, a $4.5 million award to Ted's client. To this day, it is the defining case for insurance bad faith, and yet it is only one of several other multi-million dollar jury judgments won by Ted during his career. He is certified by the State Bar of Arizona as a specialist in "wrongful death and bodily injury litigation".

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