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Garcia v. City of South Tucson

    Brief Fact Summary. The Superior Court of Pima County (Arizona) found in favor of the Appellees, Julian Roy Garcia and Susan J. Garcia (Appellees), a police officer and dependents, in connection with a claim that the Appellant, the City of South Tucson (Appellant), was responsible for the police officer’s injuries after the officer was shot by the Appellant’s own officer during a raid in which the police officer was assisting the city under a mutual aid agreement. The Appellant city challenged the decision.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The test to determine whether one doing work for another is an “independent contractor” or “employee” within the Workmen’s Compensation Act is whether the alleged employer retains control over the method of reaching the required result or whether the employer’s control is limited to the result reached, leaving the method to the other party.
    The “fireman’s rule” negates liability to a fireman by one whose negligence causes or contributes to the fire which in turn causes the death or injury of a fire fighter. The fire fighter cannot complain of negligence in the creation of the very occasion for the fire fighter’s engagement.
    The elements of assumption of risk are (1) there must be a risk of harm to plaintiff caused by defendant’s conduct or by the condition of the defendant’s land or chattels, (2) the plaintiff must have actual knowledge of the particular risk and appreciate its magnitude and (3) the plaintiff must voluntarily choose to enter or remain within the area of the risk under circumstances that manifest the plaintiff’s willingness to accept that particular risk.
    Sudden emergency applies to a party in the face of sudden, unexpected peril, with no time for deliberation.

    Facts. In October 1978, a team of officers from two Arizona law enforcement agencies surrounded a house occupied by a lone gunman who was randomly firing on the surrounding environment. A member of one agency, the City of South Tucson Police Department, shot one of the team, Officer Garcia of the City of Tucson Police Department, in the back. The Appellee was paralyzed and brought an action against the Appellant city. A jury found for the Appellee and awarded damages.

    Issue.
    * Was the officer’s sole remedy Worker’s Compensation, predicated on his being Appellee’s employee, thus disallowing his negligence claim?
    * Did the “fireman’s rule” prevent the officer from recovering damages?
    * Should the jury have been given instructions concerning “assumption of risk” and “sudden emergency” doctrines?

    Held. The court affirmed the trial court’s judgment in favor of the Appellees, holding with regard to each issue as follows:
    * No. The city and the officer’s city were not in a joint venture, because the officer’s city lacked any control over the conduct of the raid during which the officer was shot.
    * No. The officer’s injuries were caused by the negligence of a third person.
    * No. The city’s officer was negligent in ordering the raid when the police officer was not in a safe position. Also, assumption of risk and sudden emergency did not apply because the officer did not consent to being in the dangerous location and he was not acting out of a sudden emergency when shot.

    Discussion. The Appellant city offered three arguments: (1) the city and the police officer’s were engaged in a joint venture; (2) the city was a statutory employer of the police officer and (3) the trial court failed to submit jury issues on assumption of risk and sudden emergency. The Arizona Court of Appeals rejected all three.
    The central point with regard to the first argument is whether a joint venture indeed existed. The court said no, because the officer’s city lacked any control over the conduct of the raid during which the officer was shot. The court stated, “Elements of a joint venture are (1) a contract, (2) a common purpose, (3) a community of interest, and (4) an equal right of control.” The missing element was the latter. Thus the city’s argument failed.
    More important was the determination of the officer’s status. This question rested on the scope of the two agencies’ mutual aid agreement. The court laid out its standard of review: “The test [is] whether the alleged employer retains control over the method of reaching the required result or whether the employer’s control is limited to the result reached, leaving the method to the other party.” Since there was no joint venture, the officer’s employer was the City of Tucson Police Department, not the City of South Tucson Police Department. Hence, the latter had no direct control over police operations in which the officer participated.
    With regard to the “fireman’s rule”, the court explained: “The “fireman’s rule” negates liability to a fireman by one whose negligence causes or contributes to the fire which in turn causes the death or injury of a fire fighter. The fire fighter cannot complain of negligence in the creation of the very occasion for the fire fighter’s engagement.” Here, however, the court pointed out: “When a civil servant’s injuries are caused by the independent negligence of a third person, the fireman’s rule is inapplicable.” Thus, as the city’s officer – a third party – was negligent in ordering the raid when the police officer was not in a safe position, the officer could pursue a legal remedy.
    Finally, concerning assumption of risk, the second element necessary for that defense was pivotal in the court’s decision, that is, “the plaintiff must have actual knowledge of the particular risk and appreciate its magnitude.” Since the officer did not consent to being in the dangerous location – the City of South Tucson’s officer was negligent in ordering the raid when the police officer was not in a safe position – the assumption of risk doctrine did not apply.


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