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Appeals court hears case in Kingman, connects with Lee Williams High students

Larry Winthrop, chief judge of the Arizona Court of Appeals, introduces the proceedings to students and guests at Lee Williams High School.

KINGMAN - Area students got a taste of the complexities of litigation Thursday when judges from the Arizona Court of Appeals held court at Lee Williams High School.

The judges - Michael Brown, Patricia Norris and John Gemmill - were visiting as part of the annual "Connecting with the Community" program, which takes their courtroom to schools across the state so high school students can hear oral arguments in an actual case. Afterward, attorneys from both sides answer questions about the case and the judges talk about the judicial process and related careers.

In the weeks before the hearing, staff and volunteer attorneys from the Arizona Foundation For Legal Services visit the students' classrooms and discuss the selected case and the appeal process. When the judges issue a decision in the case, the court will send it to the same classrooms for review and discussion.

About 200 students from Lee Williams, Kingman High School, Lake Havasu High School and Mohave High School in Bullhead City attended the event. It was sponsored by the Mohave County Bar Association.

"As a native of Kingman, it gave me great pride to participate in this unique opportunity for the various students throughout Mohave County," said Lisa Bruno, a member of the bar association's board of directors. "If this event was the catalyst for any of the kids to pursue a career in the law, our goal was accomplished. On behalf of the Mohave County Bar Association we would like to extend our appreciation to everyone who assisted in making this event happen."

The case involved Ross Read, an Arizona Department of Public Safety officer, and Brittini Alexa Keyfauver, the driver of a pickup truck. According to a case summary, Read was issuing a ticket to a motorcyclist April 28, 2008, north of Phoenix when he heard tires squealing behind him and saw Keyfauver's southbound truck skid past him, then roll across the shoulder and into the median. After Read called for help, he ran to the truck, which was resting on its roof with Keyfauver trapped inside.

The summary states Read saw the woman scratching at the window in panic and decided to get her out of the truck without waiting for rescue personnel to arrive. He told her to close her eyes and cover her face, kicked out a window and pulled her out of the truck. In the process, he permanently and severely injured his knee. Read sued Keyfauver to recover damages for his personal injuries.

The trial court dismissed Read's complaint under the "firefighter's rule," which states that if a public safety officer gets injured while responding to a dangerous situation, the officer cannot sue the person who negligently caused it. Read appealed based on two reasons. First, the "firefighter's rule" does not apply to him because, although he was on duty, he voluntarily rescued the victim when it was not his duty to do so because she was not in immediate danger. Second, it is an assumption-of-the-risk case, where Read voluntarily and knowingly knew what he was doing and which can only be decided by a jury.

Keyfauver argued the case is a classic situation in which the "firefighter's rule" does apply because Read was on duty and sustained injuries responding to a rollover accident. Keyfauver argued also argued that the Arizona Supreme Court and Arizona Court of Appeals already have held that the "firefighter's rule" is not an assumption-of-the-risk defense, so the case did not need to go to a jury.

After the oral arguments, Austin Bracken, 18, a senior at Kingman High School, questioned the attorneys from a microphone about why Read didn't pull a fire extinguisher from his vehicle to break the window instead of his foot. Bracken said it was his first time seeing a court in action and he was spellbound by the exchanges between the judges and attorneys.

"How did assumption of risk play into this?" said Bracken. "If Read clearly assumed risk, he would have used the fire extinguisher. I think he didn't think his actions through and I don't think he should get anything. I commend him for saving the woman but I don't think he should have sued her."

Caroline Alcott, 15, a freshman at Lee Williams, agreed. Alcott said she enjoyed listening to the attorneys argue their cases and seeing how they extracted different meanings from the same words to suit their side. Alcott said some of the students sitting around her were so bored with the arguments they almost fell asleep, but it helped her get an idea of whether she wanted to be a lawyer.

"I think the case should be tried by an attorney," said Alcott. "And if I were on that jury, I would say the officer shouldn't get anything because of the 'firefighter's rule.' He did what he did, and it's good that he did it, but he applied for worker's compensation and contradicted himself."

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