Ritchie v. Costello – 8/25/2015

September 2, 2015

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One holds that a municipal airport with no air traffic control capabilities does not have an ongoing duty to an aircraft after it has left the airport.

he Cottonwood Municipal Airport is an uncontrolled airport with no ability to control aircraft that are leaving, landing, or flying around it.  The City of Cottonwood sponsored an Airfest at the airport and invited hot air balloonists to participate.  Mr. Ritchie came to the Airfest with a powered glider, intending to photograph a hot air balloon in flight.  Mr. Ritchie had not informed the festival organizers of his plans, and officials had him move his launch location several times to avoid other traffic.  He took off safely and had been flying for approximately thirty minutes when he collided with a hot air balloon and was injured.

Mr. Richie brought negligence claims against Cottonwood and associated entities and individuals.  The trial court granted summary judgement in favor of Cottonwood, holding that it did not owe a duty of care to Mr. Ritchie at the time of the accident.  Mr. Ritchie appealed and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Court of Appeals noted that assuming Mr. Ritchie was an invitee, the airport owed him a duty with regard to its premises and the means of ingress and egress.  However, the Court held that the landowner-invitee relationship and the related duty terminate when the invitee safely leaves the premises.  Any duty to warn of the obvious dangers posed by the many hot air balloons also ended.  The Court of Appeals concluded that public policy does not support holding event organizers liable for things outside their control, and the airport here had no ability to control air traffic.

Presiding Judge Portley authored the opinion; Judges Gemmill and Brown concurred.