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Read v. Keyfauver - 8/27/2013

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That the Firefighter’s Rule Does Not Apply to an Public Safety Professional Who Acts Beyond the Scope of His Required Employment Duties While At an Accident Scene As Part of His On-Duty Obligations.

Brittini Alexa Keyfauver lost control of her vehicle on Interstate 17.  The vehicle rolled through the median and landed upside down in the oncoming lanes of traffic.  A law enforcement officer, Ross Read, had been parked on the shoulder writing a traffic citation and observed the accident.  Read approached Keyfauver’s vehicle, kicked in her window, pulled her from the vehicle, and then administered first aid until paramedics arrived.  During his rescue of Keyfauver, Read permanently injured and incapacitated his knee.  Read sued Keyfauver, alleging that her negligent driving was the proximate and direct cause of his injury.  Keyfauver moved for summary judgment, arguing that because Read was on duty and present at the scene, the firefighter’s rule precluded him from recovering any damages.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Keyfauver, and Read appealed.

The court of appeals affirmed, holding that the firefighter’s rule applied in the situation and precluded Read from recovering damages.  The rescue doctrine allows a rescuer who is injured during a rescue to recover damages from the person whose negligence created the need for rescue.  The firefighter’s rule is an exception to the doctrine and prevents firefighters and police officers from recovering under the rescue doctrine.  Read argued that one of the exceptions to the firefighter rule—that it is inapplicable to public safety professionals who are off duty and are voluntarily responding to an emergency—applied to him, and that the trial court’s grant of summary judgment should be reversed.  Read argued that this exception applied to him because his only duty within the scope of his employment was to secure the scene and investigate, but not to offer further assistance to Keyfauver, and that he would not have violated any rule or been disciplined if he had not extracted Keyfauver from her vehicle.  The court of appeals rejected this argument, holding that “[i]n  determining  whether  the firefighter’s rule applies, the critical question is whether a public safety professional is ‘on the scene as a result of his on-duty obligations[.]” (quoting Espinoza v. Schulenburg, 212 Ariz. 215, 220, ¶ 23, 129 P.3d 937, 42 (2006).  Because Read was on duty at the time of the accident and was obliged to respond and secure the scene, the court held that the exception to the firefighter rule did not apply, even though Read went beyond what was required.  Read also argued that the firefighter’s rule should have been presented to the jury because it is a form of assumption of risk.  The court of appeals rejected this argument because the firefighter’s rule is not founded on assumption of risk principles.

Judge Brown authored the opinion.  Judges Norris and Gemmill concurred.

Posted by: James Rogers

Posted On: 9/3/2013