What Arizona Employers Need to Know About the Duty to Protect

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What Arizona Employers Need to Know About the Duty to Protect

Codified in common law and federal statutes, Arizona employers have a duty to exercise reasonable care in protecting employees from harm.  But does that duty extend to the employee’s family?  According to the Arizona Supreme Court, it does not.

Ernest Quiroz’s father worked at a Reynolds Metal Company plant from 1948 until 1983.  Ernest died from mesothelioma in 2014.  His family filed suit against Reynolds (Quiroz v. Alcoa Inc.), alleging that Ernest was exposed to asbestos fibers on his father’s clothing, which led to his diagnosis of mesothelioma and subsequent death.  The family asserted that Reynolds had a duty of care to protect the Quiroz family from the asbestos fibers and that the company breached its duty by failing to warn Quiroz’s father of the risks of secondary asbestos exposure.

Reynolds filed a motion for summary judgment with the trial court, which was granted and affirmed by an appellate court.  That decision was then appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court, which agreed to resolve two questions:  (1) Did Reynolds owe a duty to the Quiroz family; and (2) should Arizona adopt the “presumed duty” framework set forth in the Restatement (Third) of Torts § 7?

While the Supreme Court vacated the appellate court’s decision, it upheld the ruling that no duty was owed to Quiroz by Reynolds because no common law special relationship existed between the company and the public, and the plaintiff failed to identify a public policy that would give rise to such duty.  The court also reaffirmed that:

  • A plaintiff must prove the existence of a duty;
  • In determining the existence of a duty, foreseeability is not a factor;
  • Duty is based on special relationships either created by public policy (state and/or federal statutes) or recognized by common law.

In addition, the Supreme Court rejected the Restatement (Third) of Torts § 7, stating that its definition of risk creation was so broad that “virtually every case falls under the presumed duty of § 7.”  The court noted that Arizona has long relied on special relationships and public policy as the basis for duty, and not on creation of risk.  As such, the court found that the Third Restatement framework is “impractical, unmanageable, and has never been the law of this state.”

When employment disputes arise, you need experienced legal representation and advice. Williams Mestaz, L.L.P., is a law firm focusing on commercial litigation and business divorce. Contact us at (602) 256-9400 and schedule a time to meet with us today.

 

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