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Torts—Uncontrolled Airport Has No Duty To Aircraft Once Airborne

Posted by Ted A. Schmidt | Sep 21, 2015 | 0 Comments

Ritchie v. Costello, 720 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 19 (App. Div. I, August 25, 2015) (J. Portley).

NO DUTY TO BUSINESS INVITEE ONCE HE LEAVES PREMISES

The City of Cottonwood sponsored a hot air balloon event from their uncontrolled airport (which had no tower or air traffic control). Plaintiff Ritchie and his son agreed to film one of the balloons from their powered paragliders but did not RSVP to the invitation to participate in the Air Fest and did not attend the orientation and safety instruction.  They had to be asked three times to move their launch site of the paragliders because they were in conflict with the balloon launch.  Ultimately they launched and plaintiff crashed into a balloon sustaining injury. The balloon pilot and some passengers in the balloon sued Ritchie and various Cottonwood municipal entities for negligence. Ritchie cross-claimed in one suit and counter-claimed in another against Cottonwood. Cross motions for summary judgment were filed and the trial court granted Cottonwood's motion against Ritchie. The Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed.

The court of appeals assumed what the parties had assumed in argument—that Ritchie was a business invitee. As such the airport owed a duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe manner and to provide a reasonably safe means of ingress and egress to invitees.  However, once an invitee leaves the premises his status as an invitee ends and  the duty ends. Here the plaintiff was not injured taking off or landing. He had been flying for 30 minutes before the collision.  Likewise, once he was airborne and no longer an invitee the airport had no duty to warn him of the obvious—the sky was full of hot air balloons.  As such the airport owed no duty to Ritchie once he became airborne.

About the Author

Ted A. Schmidt

Ted's early career as a trial attorney began on the other side of the fence, in the offices of a major insurance defense firm. It was there that Ted acquired the experience, the skills and the special insight into defense strategy that have served him so well in the field of personal injury law. Notable among his successful verdicts was the landmark Sparks vs. Republic National Life Insurance Company case, a $4.5 million award to Ted's client. To this day, it is the defining case for insurance bad faith, and yet it is only one of several other multi-million dollar jury judgments won by Ted during his career. He is certified by the State Bar of Arizona as a specialist in "wrongful death and bodily injury litigation".

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