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Recent Decision Re: Rescue Doctrine

Posted in On January 30, 2024

Near midnight on St. Patrick’s Day in 2014, a cab driver picked up two men in northwest Denver. Both men were visibly intoxicated. Once in the cab, they refused to provide the cab driver with a destination, instead telling him when and where to turn as he drove. one of the passengers, finally told the driver to pull over but then began to argue over the $6.50 fare. The argument escalated, and the passenger grabbed the driver from behind and began to punch him repeatedly. Meanwhile, another man had called a cab and was waiting for it to arrive. He watched the cab pass by and, believing the cab was for him, followed it down the road. After walking a few blocks, the other man heard the driver cry for help. As he neared the cab, the man saw the passenger attacking the cab driver from the back seat. The man approached the driver’s side of the cab and told the passenger to stop. Passenger told man to mind his own business, but the man refused to leave.

Eventually, both the driver and passenger exited the cab. The passenger then assaulted the man before getting into the driver’s seat of the cab. As he drove away, the passenger hit the man’s knee with the vehicle. After briefly driving down the street with the stolen cab, the passenger turned around and accelerated toward cab driver and the man, who were standing in the middle of the street. The two dodged the vehicle as the passenger sped by. The passenger then spun the cab around a second time and again quickly accelerated. While the cab driver sought refuge behind a light pole, the man remained exposed in the middle of the street, and the passenger ran over him with the cab. The passenger then continued driving, dragging the man into a nearby parking lot. He finally stopped, shifted the cab into reverse, and hit the man again before driving off. The entire ordeal lasted around seven minutes, and only four minutes elapsed between the man approaching the cab and the passenger assaulting him with it. The man suffered extensive injuries, including shattered ear drums, a traumatic brain injury, a fractured eye socket, three broken ribs, numerous torn ligaments, and other injuries that continue to cause hip and back pain.

The man sued the cab company for negligence and unjust enrichment. Under the man’s theory of the case, the cab company breached its duty of care to the cab driver by failing to install a partition between the front and back seats of the cab and by failing to install interior cameras. The man further argued that he qualified as a rescuer and, under the rescue doctrine, the cab company owed him a duty of care, which it also breached.

A Colorado jury found in favor of the man and awarded substantial damages. However, the Colorado Court of Appeals reversed concluding that it was not reasonably foreseeable that the passenger would steal the cab and the use it as a weapon.

In November 2023 the Colorado Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals concluding:
[c]onsidering this evidence, the cab company’s failure to install certain safety measures in its cabs made it reasonably foreseeable that a passenger would attack one of its drivers and that a third party witnessing such an attack might attempt to aid the driver. Once such an assault begins, it is also reasonably foreseeable that it could escalate in unusual ways, especially given the probability that the assailant will be intoxicated. While the precise way the passenger chose to lash out at the man here might seem bizarre, it remains reasonably foreseeable that an intoxicated assailant could seize any weapon at hand to inflict harm on a rescuer who provoked the assailant’s drunken wrath.

If you are injured because of the conduct of another person or company, call the experts at Daniels & Scriven P.C. (303) 863-6006 or reach us at