Barnum v. Rural Fire Protection Co

In Barnum v. Rural Fire Protection Co., 24 Ariz. App. 233, 537 P.2d 618 (1975), the plaintiff suffered losses in a fire and sued a private fire protection company for negligent firefighting. In Barnum, the court observed that, to determine the duty owed to one who has suffered damages from a fire, courts have examined the status of the one accused of careless firefighting, often a public body, and the courts have found no liability because of sovereign immunity. Id. at 235-36, 537 P.2d at 620-21. In such a case, unless the government had narrowed its general obligation to a special duty to an individual, it was not liable for a breach of duty. Id. at 236, 537 P.2d at 621. But the court held that the public/private duty rule did not apply to a private, for-profit company that was not compelled to offer services to the public. Id. Because the defendant had no contract requiring it to respond to a fire at the plaintiff's premises, its duty was that of a mere volunteer, regardless of whether it was a governmental or private entity. Id. at 236-37, 537 P. 2d at 621-22.