WHAT IS THE RECREATIONAL USE STATUTE?
There may come a time when you are injured and suffer damages as a result of recreational activities you participate in while at a public place such as a community baseball field, a bike path, a zoo, or a playground. Whether you can be compensated for your injuries depends on the Recreational Use Statute in the particular state you are in.
A Recreational Use Statute is legislation that is passed by the state to promote private landowners to allow the use of their property by the public for recreational purposes. The reason for the passing of such legislation is that the local, state, and federal governments are not able to provide enough land for the general public to use freely. Therefore, the law is meant to encourage private large area landowners to allow public use of their property without the worry of liability from users. The statute does this by granting landowners some immunity from liability for personal injuries or property damage suffered by someone while pursuing recreational activities on the owner’s land. Every state in the United States has such a law. Each state law may be different in certain respects but are basically the same in general terms.
The term “land” generally includes land, roads, water, watercourse, private ways, and buildings, structures, machinery, and equipment attached to or located on the land, road, water, watercourse, or private way.
The term “recreation” means any activity including but not limited to such as hunting, fishing, swimming, boating, camping, picnicking, hiking, nature study (including bird watching), bicycling and mountain biking, and on-leash and off-leash walking of dogs.
If your activity fits into both of the above categories of “land” and “recreation,” the remaining question is whether the use of the property was free of charge. If you paid an entrance fee for use of the property, then any injuries you suffer are not subject to the Recreational Use Statute. You are able to recover for injuries for negligent acts just as you would against any other landowner. For example, if you pay an admission fee to enter the zoo, the property is not subject to limited liability under the Recreational Use Statute. The law is designed to protect landowners by allowing the use of their land free of charge and without profit.
In the alternative, if you are walking or riding on a state or city-owned bike path and did not pay a fee, you are subject to the limitations set out in the Recreational Use Statute of that state.
Generally speaking, a recreational use statute generally provides that a landowner, when allowing the use of his property for recreational purposes by the public free of charge, does not owe a duty of care to keep the property safe for entry or use; or a duty to give any warning of a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity on the property. Very simply, if you are injured due to the negligence of the landowner under these circumstances, then you are on your own and cannot collect damages from the landowner.
However, statutory immunity from liability is not all-encompassing. The landowner is not shielded from liability due to the willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity. For example, purposefully placing an obstacle on the walkway amounts to malicious conduct and an action for damages would be allowed.
If you are ever injured under these circumstances, it is best to speak to an experienced personal injury attorney to determine your legal rights. We would welcome the opportunity to speak with you and answer any questions you may have.