Barkhurst v. Kingsmen of Route 66, Inc. – 5/1/2014

May 5, 2014

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That Sponsorship and Promotion of an Event Does Not Create a Duty of Care.

In this case the Court of Appeals Division One addressed a classic common law question of law: in what circumstances does a party have duty of care for a negligence claim?

The Kingsmen of Route 66, a non-profit organization, sponsored a two-day rodeo in Kingman.  A local steakhouse hosted a rodeo dance and other entertainment on the first night of the event.  Two intoxicated attendees of the steakhouse event, one of whom was underage, assaulted the plaintiff in the parking lot of the steakhouse.  The plaintiff sued several parties on several theories, including a negligence claim against the Kingsmen. 

The superior court held that The Kingsmen owed no duty of care to the plaintiff and granted summary judgment on the negligence claim. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

The court began with the general proposition from tort law that there is no general duty to protect a third person from causing physical harm to another person absent a special relationship with either the aggressor or the victim.  The court then summarized the ways in which the Kingsmen had no special relationship: the Kingsmen “did not sponsor, control, host, organize, pay for, or participate” in the steakhouse event, nor did they provide security for it.  They did not have any control over the property or the alcohol served at the event.  Rather, the Kingsmen merely sponsored the two-day rodeo and promoted the steakhouse event and other entertainment during the two-day period.  The court held that mere sponsorship and promotion did not create a duty of care to attendees.

The court distinguished several situations win which courts have found a duty, including a university’s ownership of property and knowledge of underage drinking, a government permit requiring an event sponsor to ensure safety, and a sponsor’s active role in the design of and complete control over an event.  Absent that type of control or other relationship, mere sponsorship is not enough.

Judge Kessler authored the opinion; Judges Norris and Portley concurred.