August 21, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Under Rescue Doctrine, Plaintiff Must Have Physically Intervened to Stop Altercation

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Garcia v. Colorado Cab Co., LLC on Thursday, January 10, 2019.

Negligence—Personal Injury—Common Carrier/Passenger Relationship—Duty of Care—Rescue Doctrine.

A passenger in one of Colorado Cab Company’s taxis got into an altercation with the cab driver, Yusuf. Garcia, who thought the cab was the one for which he had called, approached the cab, told the passenger to leave Yusuf alone, and told them to stop fighting. Ultimately, the passenger assaulted Yusuf and Garcia and stole the taxi. The passenger then hit Garcia with the taxi, ran him over, and dragged him down the street.

Garcia suffered extensive injuries and sued Colorado Cab for negligence. Colorado Cab moved for summary judgment, arguing that it didn’t owe Garcia a duty of care and that any breach of such duty did not proximately cause Garcia’s injuries as a matter of law. The district court denied the motion. At trial, Colorado Cab moved twice for a directed verdict, based on the same reasoning in the summary judgment motion, and the district court denied those motions. A jury found for Garcia, and the district court entered judgment against Colorado Cab. The district court denied Colorado Cab’s subsequent motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

On appeal, Colorado Cab argued that the district court erred in determining that it owed Garcia a duty of care. In this case, Garcia alleged that Colorado Cab’s failure to take safety measures caused his injuries, which is nonfeasance (the defendant’s failure to prevent harm). In such cases, a duty exists only if there is a special relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant, which, as relevant here, is a common carrier/passenger relationship. No evidence showed that Garcia was a passenger or prospective passenger of the cab, so as a matter of law, there was no common carrier/passenger relationship between Garcia and Colorado Cab. Further, Garcia does not fall under the “rescue doctrine,” which extends a defendant’s liability to a plaintiff who attempts to rescue someone (1) to whom the defendant owed a duty, and (2) who was in danger because of the defendant’s negligence. Here, although Yusuf was in imminent peril, there was no evidence in the record that Garcia attempted to physically intervene. Therefore, there was no basis for extending any duty to Garcia, and the district court erred in denying Colorado Cab’s directed verdict and post-trial motions.
The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for the district court to enter judgment in Colorado Cab’s favor.

Summary provided courtesy ofColorado Lawyer.