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Ritchie v. Costello - 238 Ariz. 51, 356 P.3d 337 (Ct. App. 2015)

Rule:

A business invitee is owed a duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe manner. The duty also includes the obligation to use reasonable care to provide the invitee with a reasonably safe means of ingress and egress

Facts:

The City of Cottonwood was the sponsor of the Cottonwood Airfest, an annual event featuring hot air balloons lifting off early in the morning and other activities at the Cottonwood Municipal Airport. Plaintiff Kenneth Ritchie went to the hot air balloon launching area, but did not tell the volunteer he would be flying his powered paraglider to take photographs of a balloon while in flight. In fact, no Airfest official expected any powered paragliders to participate prior to his arrival. As a result, Ritchie did not receive, nor participate in any pre-flight safety briefing from any Airfest official. Ultimately, Ritchie launched his paraglider, climbed to 1500 feet and had been flying for about 30 minutes when his paraglider collided with a hot air balloon about a quarter-mile east of the airport. Both aircraft crashed, and Ritchie and the passengers in the balloon's basket were injured. John Biddulph, a balloon passenger, filed a lawsuit in Arizona state court against Ritchie and others; the balloon's pilot, E. Pell Wadleigh, and another passenger, Susan Evans, also filed suit against Ritchie and others. Ritchie, in turn, filed a cross-claim against Cottonwood Airport ("Airport") in the Biddulph case and a counterclaim against the Airport in the other case. Ritchie subsequently filed a motion for partial summary judgment in the consolidated matters, and the Airport filed a cross-motion seeking the dismissal of Ritchie's claims with prejudice. After argument and considering the record, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Airport. Ritchie appealed.

Issue:

Did the trial court err by ruling, as a matter of law, that the Airport did not owe a duty of care to Ritchie when he had a mid-air collision with a hot air balloon? 

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The appellate court affirmed the trial court's judgment. The court observed that, assuming Ritchie was a business invitee, the Airport owed Ritchie a duty to maintain the airport premises in a reasonably safe manner. The duty also included the obligation to use reasonable care to provide him with a reasonably safe means of ingress and egress. A landowner's obligation to invitees, however, was not limitless. Once an invitee safely leaves the premises, the landowner-invitee relationship terminates, as does the landowner's duty to the invitee. Ritchie ceased to be an invitee of the Airport after successfully getting into the air and moving away from the Airport. The mid-air collision did not happen when he was attempting to take off or land his paraglider at the Airport. Instead, the accident occurred in the air while Ritchie was taking photographs and did not see Wadleigh's balloon. Consequently, based on the record before the trial court, the Airport did not owe a duty to Ritchie. Likewise, the Airport had no duty to warn him of dangerous conditions. After Ritchie left the Airport, he was no longer an invitee; as such, the Airport did not have a duty to warn him of the obvious—that there were many hot air balloons in the sky floating in the currents of wind and he had to be careful to avoid the risk of colliding with any of them.

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