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Sanders v. Alger

Supreme Court of Arizona

June 1, 2017

Jeanette M. Sanders, Plaintiff/Appellant,
v.
Francis Alger, Defendant/Appellee.

         Appeal from the Superior Court in Pima County The Honorable D. Douglas Metcalf, Judge No. C20131310

         Opinion of the Court of Appeals, Division Two 240 Ariz. 90, 375 P.3d 1199 (App. 2016)

          J. Patrick Butler (argued), Tretschok, McNamara & Miller, P.C., Tucson, Attorneys for Jeanette M. Sanders

          Mark Brnovich, Arizona Attorney General, Dominic Draye, Solicitor General, Daniel P. Schaack (argued), Assistant Attorney General, Phoenix, Robert R. McCright, Assistant Attorney General, Attorneys for Francis Alger

          CHIEF JUSTICE BALES authored the opinion of the Court, in which VICE CHIEF JUSTICE PELANDER, JUSTICES BRUTINEL, TIMMER, BOLICK, and GOULD, and JUDGE VEDERMAN joined. [*]

          OPINION

          BALES CHIEF JUSTICE.

         ¶1 We hold that a patient owes a duty of reasonable care to a caregiver allegedly injured by the patient's actions, thereby making the patient potentially liable for negligence. We further hold that the negligence claim, which involves an in-home caregiver hired by the Arizona Department of Economic Security ("DES"), is not barred by the firefighter's rule, a common law doctrine barring recovery by a rescuer for injuries incurred while performing duties as a professional firefighter.

         I.

         ¶2 We review a trial court's grant of summary judgment de novo. Andrews v. Blake, 205 Ariz. 236, 240 ¶ 12 (2003). Because the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant Francis Alger, we view the evidence and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to Plaintiff Jeanette M. Sanders as the non-moving party. See id.

         ¶3 In 2004, Sanders contracted with DES to provide in-home care to Alger, who is developmentally disabled and, as a "vulnerable adult, " is eligible for services from the DES Division of Developmental Disabilities. See A.R.S. § 36-559(A). Alger suffers from cerebral palsy and other conditions that limit his mobility and place him at risk of falling. Sanders worked for DES as an independent contractor rather than an employee. In 2011, Sanders, then sixty years old, was assisting seventy-four-year-old Alger in moving from his wheelchair to a car. Alger attempted to stand up and, distracted, did not respond to Sanders' warnings and began to fall. When Sanders tried to prevent the fall, Alger grabbed her, and she said "let go, you're hurting me." Alger nonetheless fell on Sanders, seriously injuring her. Sanders subsequently sued Alger for negligence. Among other things, she alleged that he had negligently placed himself in jeopardy of falling, thereby requiring her to rescue him.

         ¶4 Alger moved for summary judgment, arguing that he did not owe a duty of care to Sanders, that the firefighter's rule barred her claim, and that no reasonable jury could find that he had acted negligently. The trial court granted summary judgment based on the firefighter's rule and did not address the other arguments.

         ¶5 The court of appeals reversed, holding that the firefighter's rule does not apply. Sanders v. Alger, 240 Ariz. 90, 93 ¶ 12 (App. 2016). The court also held that "Alger owed Sanders the basic duty that all persons owe each other: the duty to use reasonable care to avoid causing injury to others." Id. at 94 ¶ 19 (footnote omitted) (citing Ontiveros v. Borak, 136 Ariz. 500, 509 (1983)). The court concluded that Alger was not relieved of his duty by the fact that Sanders had contractually undertaken to care for him, including by helping to prevent the risks of his falling. Id. at 93-94 ¶¶ 15-16.

         ¶6 We granted review to consider whether a patient owes a caregiver a duty of reasonable care and, if so, whether the firefighter's rule bars a caregiver's negligence claim, both recurring issues of statewide importance. We have jurisdiction under ...


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