Wickham v. Hopkins – 4/19/2011

April 26, 2011

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That A Landowner Does Not Owe a Licensee a Duty of Reasonable Care After the Licensee Leaves the Property.

Larry and Jan Hopkins went on vacation, leaving Jan’s co-worker, Elizabeth Mueller, in charge of their fourteen-year-old daughter, Tricia.  While Mueller was having dinner with friends, Tricia invited several friends over.  These friends invited other friends, eventually resulting in a large party of young people drinking beer, listening to music, and talking.  During the party, eighteen-year-old Adam Wickham got into a verbal confrontation with another partygoer.  Wickham and his friends left the party, but while outside on the street, the altercation continued.  Shortly thereafter, someone threw a rock at Wickham’s face, knocking him unconscious and causing serious injury

Wickham sued the Hopkinses as well as the other youths involved in the altercation.  The trial court granted the Hopkinses’ motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the Hopkinses did not owe a duty of care as Wickham was injured off of the Hopkinses’ property by the conduct of others who had also left the premises.  Wickham appealed. 

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment.  The Court of Appeals stated that, as a licensee, the Hopkinses owed Wickham no duty “other than to refrain from knowingly letting him run upon a hidden peril or wantonly or willfully causing him harm.”  Accordingly, even if Wickham had been injured while on the premises, the Hopkinses would not be liable.  The Court of Appeals further rejected Wickham’s alternative argument that the Hopkinses owed him the greater duty of reasonable care after he left the property.  Applying Gipson v. Kasey, 214 Ariz. 141 (2007), the Court examined two factors to evaluate the existence of a duty:  (1) the relationship between the parties and (2) public policy considerations.  The Court first determined that the landowner-licensee relationship between the Hopkinses and Wickham terminated when Wickham left the property.  Nor did the Hopkins, by hiring Mueller to supervise Tricia, voluntarily undertake a relationship that would give rise to a duty of care.  The Court found that there were no facts in the record to indicate that the Hopkinses or Mueller voluntarily undertook to protect Wickham after he left the premises.  The Court, therefore, held that no duty arose based upon the relationship between the Hopkinses and Wickham.  Moreover, the Court of Appeals found that Wickham had failed to present a compelling public policy argument for imposing a duty of reasonable care on the Hopkinses. 

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