Gipson v. Kasey

214 Ariz. 141, 150 P.3d 228 (2007)

 

RULE:

To establish a claim for negligence, a plaintiff must prove four elements: (1) a duty requiring the defendant to conform to a certain standard of care; (2) a breach by the defendant of that standard; (3) a causal connection between the defendant's conduct and the resulting injury; and (4) actual damages. The first element, whether a duty exists, is a matter of law for the court to decide. The other elements, including breach and causation, are factual issues usually decided by the jury.

FACTS:

The coworker attended an employee holiday party hosted by the restaurant where he worked. Also present were the decedent and the decedent's girlfriend. The restaurant provided beer for the guests. The coworker brought a narcotic drug to the party, which he had been prescribed for back pain. The coworker had previously refused to give the pills to decedent, but the coworker did give the pills to the decedent's girlfriend at the party. The following morning, the girlfriend awoke to find the decedent dead. Decedent’s mother filed a wrongful death action against defendant. The superior court granted summary judgment for defendant, finding that he owed the decedent no duty of care. The court of appeals reversed, holding that defendant did owe a duty of care and that disputed facts precluded summary judgment on the issue of proximate cause.

ISSUE:

Are persons who were prescribed drugs owed a duty of care, making them potentially liable for negligence, when they improperly give their drugs to others?

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

To establish a claim for negligence, a plaintiff must prove four elements: (1) a duty requiring the defendant to conform to a certain standard of care; (2) a breach by the defendant of that standard; (3) a causal connection between the defendant's conduct and the resulting injury; and (4) actual damages. In this case, the court of appeals held that defendant owed decedent a duty of care, based on the totality of the circumstances as reflected in the following factors: (1) the relationship that existed between defendant and decedent, (2) the foreseeability of harm to a foreseeable victim as a result of defedant giving eight pills to girlfriend of decedent, and (3) the presence of statutes making it unlawful to furnish one's prescription drugs to another person not covered by the prescription.

The supreme court ruled that such a duty was owed. The duty of care did not extend from the relationship, but rather from statutes such as Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 36-2531(A)(6)Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 32-1961(A), and Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-3408(A)(5), that prohibited distributing prescription drugs to persons not covered by the prescription. 

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