Jeanette M. Sanders, Plaintiff/Appellant,
Francis Alger, Defendant/Appellee.
from the Superior Court in Pima County The Honorable D.
Douglas Metcalf, Judge No. C20131310
of the Court of Appeals, Division Two 240 Ariz. 90, 375 P.3d
1199 (App. 2016)
Patrick Butler (argued), Tretschok, McNamara & Miller,
P.C., Tucson, Attorneys for Jeanette M. Sanders
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
JUSTICE BALES authored the opinion of the Court, in which
VICE CHIEF JUSTICE PELANDER, JUSTICES BRUTINEL, TIMMER,
BOLICK, and GOULD, and JUDGE VEDERMAN joined. [*]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ...