Non-governmental park not liable under Georgia Recreational Use Statute because cyclists failed to negotiate a barricade. The dangerous condition was open, obvious and visible to all including the deceased.Posted: November 13, 2017
Because cyclists failed to look up and did not see the barricades in time, does not change the fact the barricades were visible for hundreds of feet.
State: Georgia; Court of Appeals of Georgia
Plaintiff: Nancy Amestoy
Defendant: Stone Mountain Memorial Association
Plaintiff Claims: (1) was liable for Martin’s death due to its failure to warn of the allegedly dangerous condition of the barricades, (2) had actual knowledge that the barricades posed a risk of serious bodily injury or death, and (3) willfully failed to warn of the alleged danger (despite knowing of the risk posed by the barricades).
Defendant Defenses: Georgia Recreational Use Statute
Holding: For the Defendant at trial Court, Plaintiff on appeal
The Georgia Recreational Use Statute extends immunity to non-governmental landowners. Here a cyclist died after failing to look up and see barricades blocking a road. Because the barricades were open and obvious, the Recreational Use Statute protected the landowner from suit.
The deceased was on a bike ride. The road he was riding had been closed for a foot race. The closure was accomplished by two saw horse barricades. The deceased in attempting to negotiate between them fell suffering head injuries, while wearing a helmet, and died.
…between 7:30 and 7:45 a.m. on the day in question, officers with SMMA’s public-safety department engaged in temporary traffic-control efforts on portions of Stone Mountain Park’s Robert E. Lee Boulevard in anticipation of a 5k walk/run event that was scheduled to begin at 8:00 a.m. These temporary traffic-control efforts consisted of two saw-horse style barricades placed side-by-side across the road’s southbound lanes, spanning approximately ten-feet wide with an approximately one-and-a-half foot gap between them. Both barricades bore orange and white stripes and “do not enter” signs.
It appeared to witnesses that the deceased did not look up until the last minute to see the barricades.
…Martin Amestoy was observed riding his bicycle toward the barricades at what a witness believed was a “safe, normal speed”; however, Amestoy’s head was down. Amestoy then traveled between the barricades, striking the inside corner of the lefthand barricade with his handlebar, and was thrown forward off of his bike.3 Although he was wearing a helmet, Amestoy suffered severe head trauma and died later that day.
The plaintiff, wife of the deceased, sued for:
(1) was liable for Martin’s death due to its failure to warn of the allegedly dangerous condition of the barricades, (2) had actual
knowledge that the barricades posed a risk of serious bodily injury or death, and (3) willfully failed to warn of the alleged danger (despite knowing of the risk posed by the barricades).
The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment stating it was not liable because of the Georgia Recreational Use Act. The plaintiff argued that the exception to the act applied, if the landowner of and did not warn of a dangerous condition. The Trial court agreed and the defendant immediately appealed that order.
SMMA responded and filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that it was immune from suit under the RPA. The trial court ultimately denied SMMA’s motion when it concluded that genuine issues of material fact remained as to whether (1) the barricades were a dangerous condition and (2) SMMA had actual knowledge that this condition was dangerous.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
The defendant appealed the decision based upon the facts that:
… (1) there was no evidence that it had actual knowledge of a dangerous condition, (2) the allegedly dangerous condition was
open and obvious as a matter of law, and (3) there was no evidence that it willfully failed to warn of the allegedly dangerous condition. Because the allegedly dangerous condition–i.e., the barricades blocking the southbound lanes of Robert E. Lee Boulevard–was open and obvious as a matter of law….
Under the Georgia Recreational Use Act, the landowner owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for others entering the land for recreational purposes.
In enacting the RPA, the General Assembly sought to “encourage property owners to make their property available to the public for recreational purposes by limiting the owners’ liability.”8 In this regard, OCGA § 51-3-22 provides that “an owner of land owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for recreational purposes or to give any warning of a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity on the premises to persons entering for recreational purposes.”
There is a liability for willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity. Under Georgia’s law:
…”willful failure” involves “a conscious, knowing, voluntary, intentional failure, rather than a mere inadvertent, accidental, involuntary, inattentive, inert, or passive omission.” And malice requires either “an actual intent to cause the particular harm produced or the wanton and [willful] doing of the act with an awareness of the plain and strong likelihood that harm may result.” Thus, in order for the “willful or malicious failure” exception to apply, Nancy Amestoy must show that the property owner (SMMA) had actual knowledge that (1) the property was being used for recreational purposes; (2) a condition existed involving unreasonable risk of death or serious bodily harm; (3) the condition was not apparent to those using the property; and (4) having the foregoing knowledge, the property owner chose not to warn users in disregard of the possible con-sequences. Constructive knowledge is insufficient to meet this burden of proof, and the property owner has no duty to inspect the property. Importantly, the plaintiff must satisfy each prong of this four-part test to succeed against a recreational property owner under this exception.
The court held the plaintiff failed to produce any evidence to create a jury question on whether or not the condition was not apparent to those using the property, the third prong of the test.
The court cited witness statements and statements from the investigators that the barriers where visible at least for hundreds of feet.
Considering the above testimony, Nancy Amestoy presented no evidence that SMMA had actual knowledge that the barricades were not apparent to park users when they were open and obvious, as overwhelmingly demonstrated by the foregoing testimony and photographic evidence.
The Appellate Court reversed the trial court and granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment based on the Georgia Recreational Use Statute.
So Now What?
The first take away is the Georgia Recreational Use Statute protects parks owned non-governmental landowners from suit. The second is, even though the statute has an exception for “willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity,” the landowner must have actual knowledge, not just constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition.
Here because the barricades were visible for hundreds of feet, the barricades did not constitute a dangerous condition.
If you are a cyclist, look up once in a while.
Copyright 2017 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529
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