Sanders v. Alger (6/1/2017)

We blogged the Court of Appeals opinion here; go there for the facts and issues. The Supreme Court comes to a similar result but vacates Division Two’s  substantive discussion.

The lower court’s opinion centered on the firefighters’ rule; this one centers on the issue of duty. The court primarily wants to change the duty analysis. It feels that Division Two held that there was a duty “because all people have a duty to use reasonable care to avoid causing injury to others.” (The lower court also mentioned other reasons, though that does seem to be its thrust.) “[W]e decline to adopt that . . . rationale, as we need not here decide whether people generally owe a duty of reasonable care to others.”  The court evidently realizes – it would be interesting to know if CA2 did – the significance of saying that “all people have a duty.” Many controversies in the law never go away; they simmer under the surface, ready to be brought up again by accident or design. Whether all people have a duty was the central issue in Palsgraf. The dissent said “yes.” Our courts discarded the majority’s reasons for saying “no” some time ago but the reasons they substituted are, mysteriously, less compelling than those of Justice Cardozo. And so we continue to fight the battles of 1928.

In Arizona duty can arise out of relationships. The court says that patient-caregiver is such a relationship. The court essentially feels that since the caregiver owes the patient a duty there should be a reciprocal duty. It analogizes to the rescue doctrine.

The court also holds that the firefighters rule doesn’t apply, though its reasoning is unfortunately vague. The rule doesn’t apply to caregivers on duty because it doesn’t apply to firefighters off duty. Limiting the rule “comports with” its being constitutional – i.e., not an abrogation of a cause of action – which raises more questions than it answers. And the court refers to the rescue doctrine again, except this time to say that it “arguably” doesn’t apply here.

The court seems concerned about effect of its ruling. Earlier in the opinion it spent a long paragraph explaining there could be defenses to these cases, specifically mentioning standard of care, comparative fault, assumption of risk (even though it says elsewhere that caregivers don’t assume the risk), and superseding cause. And at the end it addresses an issue that it did not grant review on: whether Defendant can get summary judgment. “[W]e note it to underscore that our ruling does not establish liability on Alger’s part.” The duty “is that of a reasonable person under the circumstances, and those circumstances include  . . . physical disabilities and limitations.”

(Opinion: Sanders v. Alger)