An amusement park operator contracted with a city to operate a fenced-in amusement park with children’s rides. The operator was also allowed to use and maintained but did not control access or have exclusive use of, an unfenced area called the piñata area. A parent paid the operator to host her daughter’s birthday party, and pursuant to their contract, the parent brought a piñata to use in the piñata area, which park employees helped set up and operate. While in the piñata area, the parent fell and injured her arm. She sued the amusement park for premises liability. The trial court granted summary judgment to the amusement park on the theory it was immune as a manager under A.R.S. § 33-1551(A). The parent appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The parent petitioned the Supreme Court for review.
The Supreme Court reversed. 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.” While “manager” is not defined within the text of the statute, every other entity given immunity possesses authority and control over access to the property in which the entity holds an interest. If “manager” was defined to include entities who did not control access, it would be incongruous with the rest of the statute. Further, the purpose of the statute is to encourage landowners to open lands to recreational users, which is also incongruous with granting immunity to entities that lack access control. Finally, legislative history reveals “manager” was analogized to “landowners” and “lessees,” who control access. Therefore, a person or entity cannot qualify as a manager for purposes of A.R.S. § 33-1551(A) if it does not control access to the land. Since the amusement park did not control access to the piñata area, it was not a manager.
Justice Lopez delivered the unanimous opinion of the court.
Posted by: Emma J. Cone-Roddy