Landowners Who Welcome Recreational Users Get More Protection From Lawsuits
Landowners who own large, undeveloped parcels of land are often approached to let their neighbors or others cross the land on a trail or access it for a cross country race or hunting, fishing, birding, hiking, swimming, camping, boating or other recreational pursuits like horseback riding. Sometimes people don’t ask but simply wander onto the property.
Often the property owner worries, “If someone falls and gets hurt on my property, will I be sued?”
The anxiety is often enough to make the landowner turn down a request they’d otherwise grant.
New 2018 amendments to a 1966 law, the Recreational Use of Land and Water Act, are now in effect and should give a measure of comfort to landowners who permit members of the general public to enter their properties for recreational purposes without charging them a fee.
Many people don’t know the law exists. The purpose of the law is “to encourage owners of land to make land and water areas available to the general public for recreational purposes by limiting their liability.” The recent update expands the definition of “land” to explicitly include such things as “paved or unpaved trails” as well as fishing piers, boat docks, and “amenities.”
The protections apply to owners and tenants as well as a “person in control of the premises.” The law says these people do not “assume responsibility for or incur liability for any injury to persons or property caused by an act of omission of a recreational user or landowner.”
A landowner can lose the protections of the Act if they charge a fee unless the money is used for conserving or maintaining the land, paying real estate taxes or paying for liability insurance (always a good idea even with the Act).
Many open spaces are owned by a government entity—like a local government such as a township or borough. These landowners can use the Recreational Use of Land and Water Act, too, but they are also protected by governmental immunity statutes as well.
Of course, landowners can still be sued, but the amended Recreational Use of Land and Water Act makes it less likely a liability lawsuit will succeed. The law also explicitly provides no protection for a “willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition.”
For more information on the Recreational Use of Land and Water Act, please contact Kate Harper at Timoney Knox or firstname.lastname@example.org.