Suing for negligence after an injury: Normandin v. Encanto

Suing for negligence after an injury: the case of  Normandin v. Encanto Adventures, LLC – No. CV-18-0200-PR (Ariz. May 17, 2019)

In Normandin v. Encanto Adventures, LLC,  the Arizona Supreme Court held that a company who entered into a concessionaire agreement to operate a children’s amusement area in a public park was not afforded the benefit of a higher burden of proof in a suit for negligence under Arizona’s Recreational Use Statute (A.R.S. § 33-1551(A)) from a premises liability claim arising from an injury that occurred in a piñata area next to the concessionaire’s amusement park.

The defendant in this case, Encanto Adventures, LLC (Encanto) ran an amusement park in an area of Encanto Park known as Picnic Island. Since 1991, Encanto had operated a children’s amusement park on Phoenix’s Picnic Island under a concessionaire agreement with the City of Phoenix. The agreement allowed Encanto to set up an amusement park on Picnic Island which allowed Encanto “certain exclusive rights to construct, maintain, and operate children’s rides within a fenced-in area of Picnic Island known as Enchanted Island.” The Agreement also allowed Encanto to use an unfenced part of Picnic Island next to its amusement park designated for piñata use. Per the Agreement, Encanto maintained Picnic Island, including the piñata area, however it did not have exclusive rights to use the piñata area or limit public access to it.

Events: The plaintiff was hosting a party in the piñata area. She bought the piñata and party supplies from Encanto. While in the piñata area, the plaintiff fell and injured herself on a sprinkler head in the ground.

Summary judgment: The plaintiff filed suit against Encanto and the City on a theory of premises liability. Encanto filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that as a “manager” it was immune from suit under the Arizona Recreational Use Statute. The trial court granted summary judgment for Encanto and the City.

Appeal: The plaintiff appealed to the Court of Appeals, who affirmed.

AZ Supreme Court: The plaintiff then petitioned the Supreme Court for review with regard to its case against Encanto.

The Supreme Court reasoned that the A.R.S. § 33-1551(A) provides that a “manager… of premises is not liable to a recreational or educational user except on a showing that the… manager… was guilty of willful, malicious, or grossly negligent conduct that was a direct cause of the injury to the recreational or educational user.”

However, the statute does not define “manager” in other grants of immunity under premises liability: under Arizona law the entity must have authority and control over access to the property in which the entity holds an interest.

The Supreme Court stated: “Encanto’s sole claim to immunity under § 33-1551(A) rests on its asserted status as a “manager” of the piñata area at the time of Normandin’s fall. This claim is unavailing. We are unpersuaded by Encanto’s reasoning that its mere maintenance of the piñata area qualifies it as a “manager” under § 33-1551(A), and we also find the court of appeals’ reliance on a dictionary definition of “manager” insufficient to discern its proper statutory meaning. Normandin, 245 Ariz. at 72-73 ¶¶ 13-14. As discussed below, we conclude that a “manager,” when read in the context of the statute and considering the purpose of recreational use immunity, is someone imbued with authority to control the public’s access to land for recreational use.”

The Court reasoned that by interpreting the statute to include an entity such as Encanto who did not control access, it would be incongruous with the rest of the statute.

Thus, Encanto should not be granted the benefit of the higher burden of proof in the Recreational Use Statute since it is not a “manager” within the context of the Statute as it does not control access to the land.

The Court stated: “…we conclude that Encanto does not qualify as such under the recreational use statute. Encanto contends that it is a “manager” because it patrols, maintains, inspects, prepares, and grooms the piñata area. But Encanto’s relationship with the City belies Encanto’s claim to any managerial status; it merely maintains the piñata area and pays the City as part of its concession.”

Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the Trial Court’s Summary Judgement that was in favor of Encanto. It left intact however the part of the Court’s opinion affirming summary judgment for the City of Phoenix.

NOTE: The full opinion of the AZ Supreme Court can be found here: https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=17417658579459559164&hl=en&as_sdt=6&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr

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