Appeal from Superior Court of Spokane County. Docket No: 90-2-04988-9. Date filed: 05/01/95. Judge signing: Hon. Kathleen O'Connor.
Authored by Dennis J. Sweeney. Concurring: Stephen M. Brown. Dissenting: Philip J. Thompson
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sweeney
SWEENEY, C.J. "One who imperils himself in order to rescue a person who is in danger of being injured or killed through the negligence of another person, may recover damages from the negligent person for injuries received while effecting such rescue." Highland v. Wilsonian Inv. Co., 171 Wash. 34, 39, 17 P.2d 631 (1932). James M. McCoy saw a Suzuki Samurai swerve across the freeway and roll after hitting a patch of black ice. He stopped to help the occupants. He then helped a Washington State trooper by placing flares along the highway. Mr. McCoy was injured by a hit-and-run vehicle while returning to his car some two hours later.
Mr. McCoy and his wife, Donna McCoy, sued the driver and passenger of the Samurai based on the rescue doctrine. *fn1 They sued American Suzuki Motor Corporation and its parent company, Suzuki Motor Company, Ltd., (Suzuki) based on the Washington product liability act (PLA), RCW 7.72. *fn2
Suzuki moved for summary judgment. The trial court concluded that the hit-and-run was a superseding cause which relieved Suzuki of liability. According to the trial Judge, being struck by a hit-and-run driver was too remote a circumstance and therefore not a foreseeable consequence of a defective product. The court granted Suzuki's motion for summary judgment. The McCoys appeal.
The trial Judge's analysis is sound if the question here is whether the McCoys' injuries are a foreseeable consequence of manufacturing a defective car. But their cause of action is based on the rescue doctrine.
That doctrine varies the ordinary rules of negligence: "it permits the rescuer to sue on the basis of defendant's initial negligence toward the party rescued, without the necessity of proving negligence toward the rescuer . . . ." Solgaard v. Guy F. Atkinson Co., 6 Cal. 3d 361, 491 P.2d 821, 99 Cal. Rptr. 29, 33 (1971). We therefore reverse the trial court's summary judgment order of dismissal of the McCoys' action and remand the matter for trial.
In French v. Chase, 48 Wash. 2d 825, 830, 297 P.2d 235 (1956), the court set out the four elements of the rescue doctrine:
(1) There must be negligence on the part of the defendant which is the proximate cause of peril, or what would appear to a reasonable person under the circumstances to be peril, to the life or limb of another.
(2) The peril, or reasonable appearance of peril, to the life or limb of another must be imminent.
(3) In determining whether the peril, or appearance of peril, is imminent, in the sense that an emergency exists requiring immediate action, the circumstances presented to the rescuer must be such that a reasonably prudent man, under the same or similar circumstances, would determine that such peril existed. (The issue of whether the rescuer's determination conformed with the reasonably prudent man standard is a question for the jury, under proper instructions.)
(4) After determining that imminent peril to life or limb of a person exists, the rescuer, in effecting the rescue, must be guided by the standard of reasonable care under the circumstances. (Whether there has been conformance with this standard also is a question for the jury, under proper instructions.)
(Emphasis omitted.) We first address Suzuki's threshold argument that the trial court did not err because the PLA eliminated the McCoys' cause ...