Oregon Supreme Court decision says protection afforded by the OR Recreational Use Statute only applies to landowner, not volunteers or others on the land.

How this will affect Federal Lands I don’t know. Federal volunteer statutes and state volunteer statutes may provide some protection.

However, you are now liable for volunteer work you might have done in the past building trails or putting in bolts or other volunteer work to make recreation in the State of Oregon better.

Johnson v. Gibson, 358 Ore. 624; 369 P.3d 1151; 2016 Ore. LEXIS 129

State: Oregon, Supreme Court of Oregon

Plaintiff: Emily Johnson

Defendant: Scott Gibson and Robert Stillson

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and violation of the American with Disabilities Act

Defendant Defenses: Oregon Recreational Use Statute

Holding: for the Plaintiff

Year: 2015

This is a weird case with a scary outcome. The plaintiff was a blind jogger who stepped into a hole in a Portland public park. The defendants, Gibson and Stillson were employees of the city and had created the hole to fix a sprinkler head.

The plaintiff filed her complaint in Federal District court arguing a Federal claim, creating federal jurisdiction. The City of Portland, the employer of the two defendants filed a motion for substitution and a motion for summary judgment. The motion for substitution says as the employer, the city is the real defendant because the city is liable for the acts of its employees.

The federal court denied to substitute the city for the two defendants stating the city would not be liable based on the Oregon Constitution, and that would leave the plaintiff without a claim. The court did grant part of the cities’ motion for summary judgment saying the Americans with Disabilities Act claim was thrown out but not the negligence claim.

The plaintiff then filed a new complaint in federal court invoking diversity jurisdiction. Diversity jurisdiction says that the parties are from different states; therefore Federal Court is the proper court. The second complaint alleged the two defendants were negligent. The city filed another motion for substitution, which was denied.

The two defendants then filed a motion for summary judgment arguing they were immune from liability under the Oregon Public Use of Lands Act (commonly called a Recreational Use Statute.) The federal district court agreed with this defense and dismissed the claim.

The plaintiff appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Because this was a state law question which no Oregon court had decided, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals then asked the Oregon Supreme Court for clarification.

This decision is the Oregon Supreme Court answer to the question presented by the Ninth Circuit court of Appeals. The questions answered by the Oregon Supreme Court with this decision were:

(1) whether individual employees responsible for repairing, maintaining, and operating improvements on City-owned recreational land made available to the public for recreational purposes are “owner[s]” of the land, as that term is defined in the Oregon Public Use of Lands Act, ORS 105.672 to 105.700,1 and therefore immune from liability for their negligence; and (2) if such employees are “owner[s]” under the Act, whether the Act, as applied to them, violates the remedy clause of Article I, section 10, of the Oregon Constitution.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

The court first looked at the language of the Oregon Public Use of Lands Act and dissected the language to determine if employees of the land owner were protected under the act. The first word reviewed in the act was “Owner.” Owner is defined by the statute so possessor was then reviewed in relation to the land.

A possessor may or may not own the land, but may control the land.

A “possessor” is “one that possesses: one that occupies, holds, owns, or controls.” Webster’s Third New Int’l Dictionary 1770 (unabridged ed 2002). A “possessor” is also “one that holds property without title–called also naked possessor; contrasted with owner.” Id. (emphasis in original). “Possession” means “the act or condition of having in or taking into one’s control or holding at one’s disposal”; “actual physical control or occupancy of property by one who holds for himself and not as a servant of another without regard to his ownership and who has legal rights to assert interests in the property”; “something owned, occupied, or controlled.” “Occupy” means “to hold possession of”; “to reside in as an owner or tenant.” An “occupant” is “one who takes the first possession of something that has no owner”; “one who occupies a particular place or premises”; and “one who has the actual use or possession of something.”

In the same paragraph, the court tackled the definition of what it means to occupy the land. After reviewing the definitions, the court determined that an occupant or a possessor must have some control over the land.

Under those definitions, an “occupant,” or a “person in possession of the land” must have some control over the space, and, given the context in which those terms are used, it is likely that the control that the legislature intended is the ability to decide who may use the space or what use may be made of it.

This then evolved into a determination that occupier and possessors of land were similar to lessees and tenants. Control over the land meant more than able to do stuff to the land, but to open the land, close the land and/or prevent others from using the land. The court then referred back to the Oregon Public Use of Lands Act where the term’s occupier and possessor were used to determine that the act did not cover the individual defendants who were employees of the owner, occupier or possessor of the land.

Meaning since the employees/defendants could not open or close the land to others, were just working on the land, the protection of the Oregon Public Use of Lands Act was not available to them.

Using those definitions and that reasoning, the court then carved out an exception to the law, which was not specifically identified, so that the employees of the defendant would not be covered by the Oregon Public Use of Lands Act.

Immunities provided to a principal may, but do not always, extend to the principal’s agents. That is clear not only from the comment to the Restatement quoted above, but also from a line of Oregon cases to which plaintiff calls our attention. In those cases, this court considered whether the sovereign immunity of governmental landowners precluding their liability for defective conditions on their streets extends to agents responsible for the repair of those streets.

So the immunity provided immunity to the land owner, in this case the city of Portland, does not extend to agents or employees of the land owner. The court found the legislature did not extend the immunity provided the Oregon Public Use of Lands Act to agents or employees of the land owner.

Consequently, we conclude that when the Legislative Assembly enacted the Public Use of Lands Act, legislators would not necessarily have assumed that granting immunity to landowners would also grant immunity to their employees and agents.

The court then narrowed the effect of the statute even further limiting its protection to those who hold legal title to the land and those who stand instead of the landowners such as tenants. The court specifically identified employees and non-employee agents as NOT being protected by the statute.

In this case, in deciding whether to imply an extension of the immunity granted to “owner[s]” of land to their employees and agents, we first consider the statute’s text. Significantly, that text indicates that the legislature intended to extend the immunity of those who hold legal title to land to some others who stand in their stead–the owners of other lesser interests in land, including tenants and lessees, and those who qualify as “occupant[s]” or “person[s] in possession” of the land. The text does not, however, disclose a legislative intent to extend the immunity of owners to additional persons who stand in their stead, such as employees and non-employee agents.

The court further reinforced its finding that the immunity provided by the Oregon Public Use of Lands Act only applied to the landowner. The court held that those who do not have the ability to make decisions about the land or to relieve others from liability for the land are not protected by the act.

Thus, it appears that the legislature’s original intent was to relieve those who control the use of their land from responsibility to take affirmative steps to make their property safe for use by others; the legislature did not express an intent to benefit those who do not have the ability to make decisions about the use of land, or to relieve non-owners who commit negligent acts from responsibility for injuries caused by such acts.

As with other decisions similar to this, the Oregon Supreme Court when out of its way to legally deny the defendant any chance of relief in this case and all future cases similar to this. (See Oregon Supreme Court finds release signed at ski area is void as a violation of public policy to see the same court use the same technique to eliminate releases as a defense in the state of Oregon.)

The Oregon Public Use of Lands Act was amended in 1995 to include in the definition of landowner public landowners such as cities, counties, municipalities.  However, the court found that language did not change the intent of the legislature to limit the protection to landowners and those who stand in the place of the landowner.

The legislature amended the Act in 1995 to make it expressly applicable to public land-owners. Or Laws 1995, ch 456, § 1. However, neither that change nor other changes in the wording of the statute disclose an intent to change the purpose of the statute or to benefit additional classes of persons.

The court held the employees of the city were not protected by the Oregon Recreational Use Statute known as the Oregon Public Use of Lands Act prior to or after it was amended.

Individual employees responsible for repairing, maintaining, and operating improvements on City owned recreational land made available to the public for recreational purposes are not “owner[s]” of the land, as that term is defined in the Oregon Public Use of Lands Act. They are therefore not immune from liability for their negligence. We do not reach the second certified question concerning Article I, section 10, of the Oregon Constitution.

So Now What?

This is a long decision with a short ending. If you are not the landowner or the tenant, you will not be protected from lawsuits by the Oregon Public Use of Lands Act.

A short list of those types of people who are not protected would be all volunteers, commercial guides and outfitters, or contractors hired to work on the land. You are volunteering to guide a group of people down a river trip as a fund raiser and someone is hurt, the Oregon Public Use of Lands Act would not provide any protection for you.

There may be other statutes that protect certain types of people on the land such as the Federal Volunteer Protection Act and any Federal laws for federal land and the Oregon Volunteer Protection Act. However, the strongest law protecting those opening their land for recreation now only protects the landowner. Landowners have nothing to fear; their protection did not change. No protection is afforded the statute now other than the landowner.

Landowners are still going to open their land; they are protected, but no work will be done to make the land better for recreation.

The Worst Part: Stopping now won’t matter. What volunteer work you might have done in the past building trails, putting in bolts or other work on lands as a volunteer can create liability for you now.

If you are interested in having me write your release, fill out this Information Form and Contract and send it to me.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Johnson v. Gibson, 358 Ore. 624; 369 P.3d 1151; 2016 Ore. LEXIS 129

Johnson v. Gibson, 358 Ore. 624; 369 P.3d 1151; 2016 Ore. LEXIS 129

Emily Johnson, Plaintiff, v. Scott Gibson and Robert Stillson, Defendants.

SC S063188

SUPREME COURT OF OREGON

358 Ore. 624; 369 P.3d 1151; 2016 Ore. LEXIS 129

November 13, 2015, Argued and Submitted

March 3, 2016, Decided

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Reconsideration denied by Johnson v. Gibson, 2016 Ore. LEXIS 281 (Or., Apr. 21, 2016)

PRIOR HISTORY:  [***1] US Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit 1335087. On certified questions from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; certification order dated April 24, 2015; certification accepted June 4, 2015.

Johnson v. Gibson, 783 F.3d 1159, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 6551 (9th Cir. Or., 2015)

COUNSEL: Thane W. Tienson, Landye Bennett Blumstein LLP, Portland, argued the cause and filed the brief for plaintiff. With him on the brief was Christine N. Moore.

Harry Auerbach, Chief Deputy City Attorney, Portland, argued the cause and filed the brief for defendants. With him on the brief was Denis M. Vannier, Deputy City Attorney.

Kathryn H. Clarke, Portland, argued the cause and filed the brief for amicus curiae Oregon Trial Lawyers Association. With her on the brief was Shenoa L. Payne, Haglund Kelley LLP, Portland.

Thomas W. McPherson, Mersereau Shannon, LLP, Portland, filed the brief for amici curiae League of Oregon Cities, Association of Oregon Counties, Citycounty Insurance Services, Oregon School Boards Association, Special Districts Association of Oregon, and The International Municipal Lawyers Association.

Janet M. Schroer, Hart Wagner LLP, Portland, filed the brief for amicus curiae Oregon Association of Defense Counsel.

JUDGES: Before Balmer, Chief [***2]  Justice, and Kistler, Walters, Landau, Baldwin, Brewer and Nakamoto, Justices.*

* Linder, J., retired December 31, 2015, and did not participate in the decision of this case.

OPINION BY: WALTERS

OPINION

[**1152]  [*626]   WALTERS, J.

This case is before the court on two certified questions from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. See ORS 28.200 – 28.255 (providing for certification of certain questions of Oregon law from specified federal courts and appellate courts of other states to Oregon Supreme Court). As framed by the Ninth Circuit, the questions are (1) whether individual employees responsible for repairing, maintaining, and operating improvements on City-owned recreational land made available to the public for recreational purposes are “owner[s]” of the land, as that term is defined in the Oregon Public Use of Lands Act, ORS 105.672 to 105.700,1 and therefore immune from liability for their negligence; and (2) if such employees are “owner[s]” under the Act, whether the Act, as applied to them, violates the remedy clause of Article I, section 10, of the Oregon Constitution.2 We conclude that the individual employees in this case do not qualify as “owner[s]” under the Act, and that we need not address the second certified question.

1 ORS 105.672(4), which defines “owner” for purposes of the Act, was amended in 2009, and those changes [***3]  went into effect January 1, 2010. Or Laws 2009, ch 532, § 1. Plaintiff alleges that her injuries occurred in July 2009. We therefore assume, as do the parties, that the Ninth Circuit’s questions refer to the version of the statute in place at the time plaintiff’s injuries occurred. That statute is ORS 105.672(4) (2007).

The current version of ORS 105.672(4) provides: “‘Owner’ means the possessor of any interest in any land, such as the holder of a fee title, a tenant, a lessee, an occupant, the holder of an easement, the holder of a right of way or a person in possession of the land.”

2 The remedy clause provides: “[E]very man  [HN1] shall have remedy by due course of law for injury done him in his person, property, or reputation.” Or Const, Art 1, § 10.

This case arose when plaintiff, who is legally blind, was injured when she stepped into a hole while jogging in a public park in the City of Portland (the City). Plaintiff filed a complaint against the City and defendants Gibson and Stillson. Defendant Gibson had created the hole to fix a malfunctioning sprinkler head; he was a park technician with primary responsibility for maintenance of the park. Defendant Stillson was the maintenance supervisor for all westside parks in the City.

[*627]  Plaintiff filed her [***4]  complaint in federal district court, invoking federal claim and supplemental jurisdiction. Plaintiff alleged, under federal law, that the City had violated Title II of the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 USC sections 12131 to 12165, and, under state law, that all three defendants were liable for negligently causing her injuries. The City filed two motions: A motion to substitute itself as the sole defendant, pursuant to the Oregon Tort Claims Act (OTCA), ORS 30.260 to 30.302; and a motion for summary judgment.

The district court denied the City’s motion for substitution. Johnson v. City of Portland, CV No 10-117-JO (D Or Feb 10, 2011) (“Johnson I“). The court reasoned that substitution of the City would violate the remedy clause in Article I, section 10, of the Oregon Constitution, because the City was immune from liability under the Public Use of Lands Act. Had the court substituted the City as the sole defendant in the case, the only defendant would have been immune and entitled to dismissal, leaving plaintiff without a remedy for her injury. Id.

The district court granted the City’s motion for summary judgment, in part. The court granted the City summary judgment as to plaintiff’s federal ADA claim, leaving plaintiff’s negligence claim as her only remaining claim. The [***5]  district court declined to retain supplemental jurisdiction over that state law claim and dismissed the case. Id.

Plaintiff then filed a new complaint in federal court invoking diversity jurisdiction. Plaintiff again alleged a state law negligence claim against defendants Gibson and Stillson, and those defendants again filed a motion to substitute the City as the sole defendant under the OTCA. In Johnson II, the district  [**1153]  court agreed with the prior ruling in Johnson I that substitution of the City was not appropriate. Johnson v. Gibson, 918 F Supp 2d 1075, 1082 (D Or 2013). Then, the individual defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that they were immune from liability under the Public Use of Lands Act. Id. at 1083. The district court agreed, reasoning that employees who maintain land qualify as “owner[s]” under that Act, and that defendants Gibson and Stillson were therefore immune from liability.  [*628]  Id. at 1085. The court also held that the Public Use of Lands Act does not violate the remedy clause. Id. at 1088. The court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment. Id. at 1089. Plaintiff appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and the Ninth Circuit certified to this court the two questions now before us.

We begin with the first question [***6]  posed and the text of the Oregon Public Use of Lands Act, which provides, in part:

[HN2] “Except as provided by subsection (2) of this section, and subject to the provisions of ORS 105.688, an owner of land is not liable in contract or tort for any personal injury, death or property damage that arises out of the use of the land for recreational purposes * * * when the owner of land either directly or indirectly permits any person to use the land for recreational purposes * * *. The limitation on liability provided by this section applies if the principal purpose for entry upon the land is for recreational purposes * * *.”

ORS 105.682(1). “Land” is defined as “all real property, whether publicly or privately owned.” ORS 105.672(3). “Owner” is defined as follows:

“‘Owner’ means the possessor of any interest in any land, including but not limited to possession of a fee title. ‘Owner’ includes a tenant, lessee, occupant or other person in possession of the land.”

ORS 105.672(4) (2007).

From that definition of “owner,” defendants make a three-step argument: First, that the definition of the term “owner” is ambiguous and is not limited to those with a legal interest in the land; second, that, considered in its proper context, the term includes owners’ employees and [***7]  agents; and third, that as City employees, defendants are entitled to recreational immunity.

Defendants’ argument focuses on the second sentence of the definition of “owner.” Defendants recognize that they do not qualify as “owner[s]” under the first sentence of that definition because they do not have legal title to, or a legal right in, the property where plaintiff was injured. However, they contend, the second sentence in the definition  [*629]  is broader, and it includes both persons who have a legal right in property–specifically, “tenant[s]” and “lessee[s]”–and those who do not–specifically, “occupant[s]” and those who are “in possession of the land.” Id. According to defendants, the dictionary definitions of those latter terms demonstrate that “owner[s]” include persons without legal or equitable title to, or interest in, land.

[HN3] A “possessor” is “one that possesses: one that occupies, holds, owns, or controls.” Webster’s Third New Int’l Dictionary 1770 (unabridged ed 2002). A “possessor” is also “one that holds property without title–called also naked possessor; contrasted with owner.” Id. (emphasis in original). “Possession” means “the act or condition of having in or taking into one’s control or holding at one’s disposal”; “actual [***8]  physical control or occupancy of property by one who holds for himself and not as a servant of another without regard to his ownership and who has legal rights to assert interests in the property”; “something owned, occupied, or controlled.” Id. “Occupy” means “to hold possession of”; “to reside in as an owner or tenant.” Id. at 1561. An “occupant” is “one who takes the first possession of something that has no owner”; “one who occupies a particular place or premises”; and “one who has the actual use or possession of something.” Id. 1560.

Like defendants, we surmise, from those definitions, that  [HN4] the terms “occupant” and “person in possession of the land” may include persons without legal or equitable title to, or interest in, the land. But that is not the only lesson we take from those definitions. Like plaintiff, we conclude that those terms describe persons who do more than  [**1154]  take up space on the land. Under those definitions, an “occupant,” or a “person in possession of the land” must have some control over the space, and, given the context in which those terms are used, it is likely that the control that the legislature intended is the ability to decide who may use the space or what use may be made [***9]  of it. The terms “occupant” and “person in possession of the land” are used in the same sentence as the terms “tenant” and “lessee.” ORS 105.672(4) (2007). Tenants and lessees have the ability to decide who may use the space that they control and for what purposes. Under noscitur a sociis, a maxim of statutory construction that  [*630]  tells us that the meaning of an unclear word may be clarified by the meaning of other words used in the same context, it is likely that the legislature intended that “occupant[s]” and “person[s] in possession of the land” have the same type of control as tenants and lessees. See State v. McCullough, 347 Ore. 350, 361, 220 P3d 1182 (2009) (so describing noscitur a sociis). Under that interpretation, only persons with authority to control and exclude from the land qualify as “owner[s]” of the land.

Further support for that interpretation is found in the context in which the term “owner” is used in the Act. The Legislative Assembly enacted  [HN5] the Public Use of Lands Act in 1971 “to encourage owners of land to make their land available to the public for recreational purposes by limiting their liability toward persons entering thereon for such purposes.” Or Laws 1971, ch 780, § 2, codified as former ORS 105.660 (1971), now codified as amended as ORS 105.676 (emphasis added). The immunities [***10]  provided by the Act apply only if “[t]he owner makes no charge for permission to use the land.” Former ORS 105.688(2)(a) (2007), renumbered as ORS 105.688(3) (2010) (emphasis added). An individual without a right to exclude others from the land or to otherwise control use of the land does not have the decision-making authority that the statute contemplates–the authority to make the land available to the public or to charge for permission to use the land.

Defendants do not point us to any statutory context or legislative history that indicates that the legislature understood the terms “occupant” or “person in possession of the land” in ORS 105.672(4) (2007) to support the unbounded meaning that defendants ascribe to those terms.3 In fact, a case that defendants cite for a different proposition supports  [*631]  plaintiff’s narrow interpretation of those terms. In Elliott v. Rogers Construction, 257 Ore. 421, 433, 479 P2d 753 (1971), the court considered the standard of care that applied to a contractor that was building a road for its principal. In discussing that issue, the court observed that “[c]ases from other jurisdictions and legal writers do not treat a contractor as an occupier of land.” Id. at 432. In that case, the court was not interpreting the definition of “owner” in the Public Use of Lands Act, but its observation [***11]  about the legal meaning of the word “occupant” is consistent with our interpretation of that word as being limited to individuals with a right to control and exclude from the land.

3 Defendants do argue that the main sponsor of the bill that led to the current version of the Act stated that it was “designed to be very broad” and to “guarantee [landowners] that they [would not] be paying out of pocket for * * * allowing their property to be used.” Tape Recording, House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Agriculture and Forestry, HB 2296, Jan 30, 1995, Tape 4, Side A (statement of Rep Kevin Mannix). However, we do not find that general statement of purpose to be of assistance in determining the meaning of defined terms in the statute. See State v. Gaines, 346 Ore. 160, 171, 206 P3d 1042 (2009) (“[I]t is not the intent of the individual legislators that governs, but the intent of the legislature as formally enacted into law[.]”).

In this case, defendants do not argue that they had a right to exclude others from the land or to otherwise control the use of the land. Rather, they argue that the definition of “owner” is so ambiguous that it requires us to look beyond the words of the definition to the context surrounding ORS 105.682, particularly the [***12]  pre-existing common law. See Fresk v. Kraemer, 337 Ore. 513, 520-21, 99 P3d 282 (2004) (context includes pre-existing common law). Defendants contend that an examination of that pre-existing common law shows that the legislature must have intended “owner” to include persons who are employed  [**1155]  by, or are agents of, persons who are more classically denominated as owners.

Defendants argue that where land and property are concerned, the common law rule has long been that employees and agents have the same privileges and immunities as their principals. Defendants contend that, insofar as the legislature enacted and amended the Act in the context of that common law rule, it intended that that rule apply. Consequently, defendants assert, the legislature was not required to say explicitly what the common law already provides.

For the common law rule on which they rely, defendants point to two Oregon cases–Herzog v. Mittleman, 155 Ore. 624, 632, 65 P2d 384 (1937); and Elliott, 257 Ore. at 432-33. In the first of those cases, Herzog, the court examined a guest passenger statute that provided that a guest in a vehicle would have no cause of action against the owner or operator for damages unless the accident was “intentional on the  [*632]  part of [the] owner or operator or caused by his gross negligence or intoxication or his reckless disregard [***13]  of the rights of others.” Id. at 628. The question presented was whether a vehicle owner’s guest, who was operating the vehicle in question at the owner’s invitation, would be protected by the same rule on the theory that he was acting as the owner’s agent while driving the vehicle. The court looked to the Restatement (First) of Agency (1933) for assistance and began with section 343, which provides:

“An agent who does an act otherwise a tort is not relieved from liability by the fact that he acted at the command of the principal or on account of the principal, except where he is exercising a privilege of the principal, or a privilege held by him for the protection of the principal’s interest.”

Id. at 631 (internal quotation marks omitted). The court also looked to section 347 of the Restatement, which provides: “An agent who is acting in pursuance of his authority has such immunities of the principal as are not personal to the principal.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). Finally, the court quoted comment a to that section:

“a. Persons may have a personal immunity from liability with respect to all persons and for all acts, as in the case of a sovereign, or for some acts, as in the case of an insane person, or as to some persons as in the [***14]  case of a husband to a wife. * * * Unlike certain privileges such immunities cannot be delegated. On the other hand where an immunity exists in order to more adequately protect the interests of a person in relation to his property, the agent may have the principal’s immunity. Thus, the servant of a landowner while acting in the scope of his employment is under no greater duties to unseen trespassers than is the landowner[.]”

Id. at 631-32 (internal quotation marks omitted) (omission in original).

Reasoning from those provisions, the court explained that although “it is well settled that an agent who violates a duty which he owes to a third person is answerable for the consequences thereof,” if the agent is “acting within the authority, and pursuant to the direction of the principal, the agent is entitled to the same immunities as the principal would be had the principal done the same act under the  [*633]  same circumstances and such immunities were not personal to the principal.” Id. at 632. Applying that legal authority to the facts at hand, the court concluded that the standard of care set out in the statute was not personal to the principal–the car owner–but that it also extended to the agent–a guest that the owner [***15]  had authorized to drive the car. Id. at 633. The court further concluded that the plaintiff could not recover from the defendant-agent without a showing that the defendant-agent was grossly negligent. Id.

In the second of the Oregon cases that defendants cite, Elliott, the court considered whether a contractor working on a landowner’s property had the same limited duty of care to trespassers and licensees as did the landowner. 257 Ore. at 431-33. In that case, an employee of a construction company that was building a road for the State Highway Department accidentally injured a pedestrian who was crossing a portion of the road that had not yet been opened to the public. Id. at 424. The  [**1156]  court explained that, “[b]eing ‘clothed with the rights of the owner,’ [the construction company] was only under a duty to the plaintiff’s decedent to abstain from inflicting injury willfully or by active negligence.” Id. at 433. Because the plaintiff had alleged that the company’s employee had acted with wanton misconduct, however, the court held that the lawsuit could proceed. Id. at 434-35. Thus, without discussing the issues in the same terms used in the Restatement (First) of Agency, the court implicitly concluded that the standard of care applicable to the landowner [***16]  was not personal to the landowner, but that it also extended to the landowner’s agent.

In this case, defendants’ reliance on Herzog and Elliott is misplaced. Defendants draw general conclusions from the results in those cases without recognizing the distinction that is explicit in Herzog and implicit in Elliott–that is, the distinction between immunities that are personal to the principal and those that may extend to a principal’s agent. Immunities provided to a principal may, but do not always, extend to the principal’s agents. That is clear not only from the comment to the Restatement quoted above, but also from a line of Oregon cases to which plaintiff calls our attention. In those cases, this court considered whether the  [*634]  sovereign immunity of governmental landowners precluding their liability for defective conditions on their streets extends to agents responsible for the repair of those streets. The first case in which the court contemplated that issue was Mattson v. Astoria, 39 Ore. 577, 65 P 1066 (1901).

In Mattson, the plaintiff was injured as a result of the city’s failure to keep a public street in repair and suitable for travel. Id. at 578. The plaintiff challenged a clause of the city charter that exempted the city and members of [***17]  its council from liability for such failure. Id. The court said the following:

“That it is within the power of a legislature to exempt a city from liability to persons receiving injuries on account of streets being defective or out of repair, is unquestioned. * * * But in such case the injured party is not wholly without remedy. He may proceed personally against the officers to whom the charter delegates the duty of keeping the streets in repair, and from whose negligence the injury resulted.”

Id. at 579. Since Mattson, the court has consistently recognized that the liability of a local government as landowner is distinct from the liability of employees and agents of the government. For instance, in Gearin v. Marion County, 110 Ore. 390, 396-97, 223 P 929 (1924), the court explained:

“The constitutional guaranty that ‘every man shall have remedy by due course of law for injury done him in his person, property or reputation’ we think is self-executing and operates without the aid of any legislative act or provision. * * * It has, however, no application to an action sounding in tort when brought against the state or one of the counties of the state. In strict law neither the state nor a county is capable of committing a tort or lawfully authorizing one to be [***18]  committed. Counties, as well as the state, act through their public officials and duly authorized agents. The officers, agents, servants and employees of the state or a county, while in the discharge of their duties, can and sometimes do commit torts, but no lawful authorization or legal justification can be found for the commission of a tort by any such officer, agent, servant or employee. When a tort is thus committed, the person committing it is personally liable for the injury resulting therefrom. The wrongful act, however, is the act of the wrongdoer and not  [*635]  the act of the state or county in whose service the wrong-doer is then engaged. For the damages occasioned by the wrong thus committed it is within the power of the legislature to impute liability against the state or the county in whose service the wrongdoer is then engaged, or to exempt the state or county from such liability, but in either event the wrongdoer is himself personally responsible. It is the remedy against the wrongdoer himself and not the remedy which may or may not be imposed by statute against the state or county for the torts of its officers or agents  [**1157]  to which the constitutional guarant[y] applies.”

See also Rankin v. Buckman, et al., 9 Ore. 253, 259-63 (1881) (city [***19]  employees liable even when city is not).

From those cases, it appears that whether a principal’s immunity is personal to the principal or may extend to an agent is a matter of legislative choice subject to constitutional bounds. We presume that the legislature was aware of that existing law. Blachana, LLC v. Bureau of Labor and Industries, 354 Ore. 676, 691, 318 P3d 735 (2014). In addition, the Restatement (Second) of Agency section 347(1) (1958), which had been published by the American Law Institute when the Legislative Assembly enacted the Oregon Public Use of Lands Act in 1971, is in accord. It provides that “[a]n agent does not have the immunities of his principal although acting at the direction of the principal.” Id. Restatement section 347 comment a clarifies: “Immunities exist because of an overriding public policy which serves to protect an admitted wrongdoer from civil liability. They are strictly personal to the individual and cannot be shared.” Subject to constitutional limitations, the legislature must determine as a matter of public policy how broadly to extend immunities.

Consequently, we conclude that when the Legislative Assembly enacted the Public Use of Lands Act, legislators would not necessarily have assumed that granting immunity to landowners would also grant immunity to their employees and agents. The legal principles that [***20]  the court had previously applied, as well as the common law rules reflected in the restatements, recognized that the grant of immunity to a principal, particularly to a governmental principal, would not necessarily extend to the employees and agents of the  [*636]  principal. Whether a court would imply such an extension could depend, for instance, on whether the court considered the grant of immunity personal to the principal, or whether extension of immunity to an agent would eliminate a remedy that the Oregon Constitution requires.

In this case, in deciding whether to imply an extension of the immunity granted to “owner[s]” of land to their employees and agents, we first consider the statute’s text. Significantly, that text indicates that the legislature intended to extend the immunity of those who hold legal title to land to some others who stand in their stead–the owners of other lesser interests in land, including tenants and lessees, and those who qualify as “occupant[s]” or “person[s] in possession” of the land. The text does not, however, disclose a legislative intent to extend the immunity of owners to additional persons who stand in their stead, such as employees and non-employee agents.

Second, we look to the [***21]  statute’s context and legislative history and note that, when it was originally enacted in 1971, the Act was supported by owners of forestland who wished to open their lands to the public for recreational uses such as hunting and fishing. Testimony, Senate Committee on State and Federal Affairs, SB 294, March 1, 1971 (written statement of Sam Taylor, a proponent of the bill). When originally enacted, the Act provided that “[a]n owner of land owes no duty of care to keep the land safe for entry or use by others for any recreational purpose or to give any warning of a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity on the land to persons entering thereon for any such purpose.” Or Laws 1971, ch 780, § 3. Thus, it appears that the legislature’s original intent was to relieve those who control the use of their land from responsibility to take affirmative steps to make their property safe for use by others; the legislature did not express an intent to benefit those who do not have the ability to make decisions about the use of land, or to relieve non-owners who commit negligent acts from responsibility for injuries caused by such acts.

The legislature amended the Act in 1995 to make it expressly [***22]  applicable to public landowners. Or Laws 1995, ch 456, § 1. However, neither that change nor other changes  [*637]  in the wording of the statute disclose an intent to change the purpose of the statute or to benefit additional classes of persons. Importantly, the legislature did not materially change the definition of owner in 1995. The 1971 Act provided that an “owner” is “the possessor of a fee title interest in any land, a tenant, lessee, occupant or other person in  [**1158]  possession of the land.” Or Laws 1971, ch 780, § 1. In 1995, the legislature broke the definition into two sentences and changed the phrase in the first sentence from “possessor of a fee title interest in any land” to “possessor of any interest in any land.” Or Laws 1995, ch 456, § 1. However, the legislature did not change the categories of persons to whom it granted immunity; in 1995, the legislature exempted the same persons from liability that it had exempted in 1971. When the legislature made the Public Use of Lands Act expressly applicable to public landowners in 1995, it did not demonstrate an intent to broaden the Act to benefit those who do not have the ability to make decisions about the use of land, or to relieve non-owners [***23]  who commit negligent acts from responsibility for injuries caused by such acts.

Defendants argue, however, that other statutory context points in that direction. Defendants call our attention to the fact that just four years earlier, in 1991, the legislature had amended the OTCA to provide that a claim against a public body is the sole remedy for the torts committed by employees of that public body. Or Laws 1991, ch 861, § 1. Defendants contend that, in light of that amendment, the Public Use of Lands Act must be read to shield governmental employees and agents; otherwise, the immunity it grants to governmental landowners would mean nothing. We disagree. The Public Use of Lands Act applies not only to public landowners, but also to private landowners. Just as it did before the amendment of the OTCA, the Public Use of Lands Act protects all “owner[s]” from liability in their capacity as “owner[s].” Just like private owners, public owners are exempt from liability for their own acts. The fact that public owners are not, in addition, exempt from liability for the acts of their employees or agents does not make the immunity granted by the Public Use of Lands Act illusory. The fact that public owners, like [***24]  private owners, are not shielded from liability if they employ non-owners who cause injury to  [*638]  others in the negligent performance of their duties does not mean that the Public Use of Lands Act has no purpose.

The legislature knows how to extend immunity to governmental employees and agents when it chooses to do so. See ORS 368.031 (immunizing counties and their officers, employees, or agents for failure to improve or keep in repair local access roads); ORS 453.912 (immunizing the state and local government and their officers, agents and employees for loss or injury resulting from the presence of any chemical or controlled substance at a site used to manufacture illegal drugs); ORS 475.465 (immunizing the state, DEQ, EQC, and their officers, employees, and agents from liability to a person possessing chemicals at alleged illegal drug manufacturing site).4 The legislature did not make that express choice in the Public Use of Lands Act. Should the legislature wish to extend the immunity provided to “owner[s]” to governmental employees and agents, it is free to do so, within constitutional bounds. However, we are unwilling to insert into the definition of “owner” in ORS 105.672(4) (2007) terms that the legislature did not include. See ORS 174.010 (office [***25]  of judge is to ascertain what is contained in statute, not to insert what was omitted or to omit what was inserted).

4 Another example, although enacted after the Public Use of Lands Act, is a 2011 statute that grants immunity relating to public trails. ORS 105.668(2) immunizes a “city with a population of 500,000 or more” and its “officers, employees, or agents” from liability for injury or damage resulting from the use of a trail or structures in a public easement or an unimproved right of way.

We answer the Ninth Circuit’s first certified question as follows:  [HN6] Individual employees responsible for repairing, maintaining, and operating improvements on Cityowned recreational land made available to the public for recreational purposes are not “owner[s]” of the land, as that term is defined in the Oregon Public Use of Lands Act. They are therefore not immune from liability for their negligence. We do not reach the second certified question concerning Article I, section 10, of the Oregon Constitution.

The certified questions are answered.

 


Oregon Recreational Use Statute known as the Oregon Public Use of Lands Act

Oregon Recreational Use Statute

Oregon Public Use of Lands Act

Oregon Statutes

Title 10. PROPERTY RIGHTS AND TRANSACTIONS

Chapter 105. Property Rights

PUBLIC USE OF LANDS

105.668. Immunity from liability for injury or property damage arising from use of trail or structures in public easement or right of way. 1

105.672. Definitions for ORS 105.672 to 105.696. 3

105.676. Public policy. 3

105.682. Liabilities of owner of land used by public for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or harvest of special forest products. 4

105.688  Applicability of immunities from liability for owner of land; restrictions. 4

105.692. Right to continued use of land following permitted use; presumption of dedication or other rights. 8

105.699. Rules applicable to state lands. 9

105.696  Duty of care or liability not created; exercise of care required of person using land. 9

105.699  Rules Applicable to State Lands. 10

105.700. Prohibiting public access to private land; notice requirements; damages. 10

§ 105.668. Immunity from liability for injury or property damage arising from use of trail or structures in public easement or right of way

(1)       As used in this section:

(a)             “Structures” means improvements in a trail, including, but not limited to, stairs and bridges, that are accessible by a user on foot, on a horse or on a bicycle or other nonmotorized vehicle or conveyance.

(b)             “Unimproved right of way” means a platted or dedicated public right of way over which a street, road or highway has not been constructed to the standards and specifications of the city with jurisdiction over the public right of way and for which the city has not expressly accepted responsibility for maintenance.

(2)       A personal injury or property damage resulting from use of a trail that is in a public easement or in an unimproved right of way, or from use of structures in the public easement or unimproved right of way, by a user on foot, on a horse or on a bicycle or other nonmotorized vehicle or conveyance does not give rise to a private claim or right of action based on negligence against:

(a)             A city with a population of 500,000 or more;

(b)             The officers, employees or agents of a city with a population of 500,000 or more to the extent the officers, employees or agents are entitled to defense and indemnification under ORS 30.285 ;

(c) The owner of land abutting the public easement, or unimproved right of way, in a city with a population of 500,000 or more; or

(d)             A nonprofit corporation and its volunteers for the construction and maintenance of the trail or the structures in a public easement or unimproved right of way in a city with a population of 500,000 or more.

(3)       Notwithstanding the limit in subsection (2) of this section to a city with a population of 500,000 or more, by adoption of an ordinance or resolution, a city or county to which subsection (2) of this section does not apply may opt to limit liability in the manner established by subsection (2) of this section for:

(a)             The city or county that opts in by ordinance or resolution;

(b)             The officers, employees or agents of the city or county that opts in to the extent the officers, employees or agents are entitled to defense and indemnification under ORS 30.285 ;

(c) The owner of land abutting the public easement, or unimproved right of way, in the city or county that opts in by ordinance or resolution; and

(d)             A nonprofit corporation and its volunteers for the construction and maintenance of the trail or the structures in a public easement or unimproved right of way in the city or county that opts in.

(4)       The immunity granted by this section from a private claim or right of action based on negligence does not grant immunity from liability:

(a)             Except as provided in subsection (2)(b) or (3)(b) of this section, to a person that receives compensation for providing assistance, services or advice in relation to conduct that leads to a personal injury or property damage.

(b)             For personal injury or property damage resulting from gross negligence or from reckless, wanton or intentional misconduct.

(c) For an activity for which a person is strictly liable without regard to fault.

§ 105.672. Definitions for ORS 105.672 to 105.696

As used in ORS 105.672 to 105.696 :

(1)       “Charge”:

(a)             Means the admission price or fee requested or expected by an owner in return for granting permission for a person to enter or go upon the owner’s land.

(b)             Does not mean any amount received from a public body in return for granting permission for the public to enter or go upon the owner’s land.

(c) Does not include the fee for a winter recreation parking permit or any other parking fee of $15 or less per day.

(2)       “Harvest” has that meaning given in ORS 164.813.

(3)       “Land” includes all real property, whether publicly or privately owned.

(4)       “Owner” means the possessor of any interest in any land, such as the holder of a fee title, a tenant, a lessee, an occupant, the holder of an easement, the holder of a right of way or a person in possession of the land.

(5)       “Recreational purposes” includes, but is not limited to, outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing, swimming, boating, camping, picnicking, hiking, nature study, outdoor educational activities, waterskiing, winter sports, viewing or enjoying historical, archaeological, scenic or scientific sites or volunteering for any public purpose project.

(6)       “Special forest products” has that meaning given in ORS 164.813.

(7)       “Woodcutting” means the cutting or removal of wood from land by an individual who has obtained permission from the owner of the land to cut or remove wood.

§ 105.676. Public policy

The Legislative Assembly hereby declares it is the public policy of the State of Oregon to encourage owners of land to make their land available to the public for recreational purposes, for gardening, for woodcutting and for the harvest of special forest products by limiting their liability toward persons entering thereon for such purposes and by protecting their interests in their land from the extinguishment of any such interest or the acquisition by the public of any right to use or continue the use of such land for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or the harvest of special forest products.

§ 105.682. Liabilities of owner of land used by public for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or harvest of special forest products

(1)       Except as provided by subsection (2) of this section, and subject to the provisions of ORS 105.688, an owner of land is not liable in contract or tort for any personal injury, death or property damage that arises out of the use of the land for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or the harvest of special forest products when the owner of land either directly or indirectly permits any person to use the land for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or the harvest of special forest products. The limitation on liability provided by this section applies if the principal purpose for entry upon the land is for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or the harvest of special forest products, and is not affected if the injury, death or damage occurs while the person entering land is engaging in activities other than the use of the land for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or the harvest of special forest products.

(2)       This section does not limit the liability of an owner of land for intentional injury or damage to a person coming onto land for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or the harvest of special forest products.

105.688  Applicability of immunities from liability for owner of land; restrictions.

(1) Except as specifically provided in ORS 105.672 to 105.696, the immunities provided by ORS 105.682 apply to:

(a) All land, including but not limited to land adjacent or contiguous to any bodies of water, watercourses or the ocean shore as defined by ORS 390.605;

(b) All roads, bodies of water, watercourses, rights of way, buildings, fixtures and structures on the land described in paragraph (a) of this subsection;

(c) All paths, trails, roads, watercourses and other rights of way while being used by a person to reach land for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or the harvest of special forest products, that are on land adjacent to the land that the person intends to use for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or the harvest of special forest products, and that have not been improved, designed or maintained for the specific purpose of providing access for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or the harvest of special forest products; and

(d) All machinery or equipment on the land described in paragraph (a) of this subsection.

(2) The immunities provided by ORS 105.682 apply to land if the owner transfers an easement to a public body to use the land.

(3) Except as provided in subsections (4) to (7) of this section, the immunities provided by ORS 105.682 do not apply if the owner makes any charge for permission to use the land for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or the harvest of special forest products.

(4) If the owner charges for permission to use the owner’s land for one or more specific recreational purposes and the owner provides notice in the manner provided by subsection (8) of this section, the immunities provided by ORS 105.682 apply to any use of the land other than the activities for which the charge is imposed. If the owner charges for permission to use a specified part of the owner’s land for recreational purposes and the owner provides notice in the manner provided by subsection (8) of this section, the immunities provided by ORS 105.682 apply to the remainder of the owner’s land.

(5) The immunities provided by ORS 105.682 for gardening do not apply if the owner charges more than $ 25 per year for the use of the land for gardening. If the owner charges more than $ 25 per year for the use of the land for gardening, the immunities provided by ORS 105.682 apply to any use of the land other than gardening. If the owner charges more than $ 25 per year for permission to use a specific part of the owner’s land for gardening and the owner provides notice in the manner provided by subsection (8) of this section, the immunities provided by ORS 105.682 apply to the remainder of the owner’s land.

(6) The immunities provided by ORS 105.682 for woodcutting do not apply if the owner charges more than $ 75 per cord for permission to use the land for woodcutting. If the owner charges more than $ 75 per cord for the use of the land for woodcutting, the immunities provided by ORS 105.682 apply to any use of the land other than woodcutting. If the owner charges more than $ 75 per cord for permission to use a specific part of the owner’s land for woodcutting and the owner provides notice in the manner provided by subsection (8) of this section, the immunities provided by ORS 105.682 apply to the remainder of the owner’s land.

(7) The immunities provided by ORS 105.682 for the harvest of special forest products do not apply if the owner makes any charge for permission to use the land for the harvest of special forest products. If the owner charges for permission to use the owner’s land for the harvest of special forest products, the immunities provided by ORS 105.682 apply to any use of the land other than the harvest of special forest products. If the owner charges for permission to use a specific part of the owner’s land for harvesting special forest products and the owner provides notice in the manner provided by subsection (8) of this section, the immunities provided by ORS 105.682 apply to the remainder of the owner’s land.

(8) Notices under subsections (4) to (7) of this section may be given by posting, as part of a receipt, or by such other means as may be reasonably calculated to apprise a person of:

(a) The limited uses of the land for which the charge is made, and the immunities provided under ORS 105.682 for other uses of the land; or

(b) The portion of the land the use of which is subject to the charge, and the immunities provided under ORS 105.682 for the remainder of the land.

§ 105.692. Right to continued use of land following permitted use; presumption of dedication or other rights

(1)       An owner of land who either directly or indirectly permits any person to use the land for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or the harvest of special forest products does not give that person or any other person a right to continued use of the land for those purposes without the consent of the owner.

(2)       The fact that an owner of land allows the public to use the land for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or the harvest of special forest products without posting, fencing or otherwise restricting use of the land does not raise a presumption that the landowner intended to dedicate or otherwise give over to the public the right to continued use of the land.

(3)       Nothing in this section shall be construed to diminish or divert any public right to use land for recreational purposes acquired by dedication, prescription, grant, custom or otherwise existing before October 5, 1973.

(4)       Nothing in this section shall be construed to diminish or divert any public right to use land for woodcutting acquired by dedication, prescription, grant, custom or otherwise existing before October 3, 1979.

§ 105.699. Rules applicable to state lands

The State Forester, under the general supervision of the State Board of Forestry, may adopt any rules considered necessary for the administration of the provisions of ORS 105.672 to 105.696 on state land.

105.696  Duty of care or liability not created; exercise of care required of person using land.

ORS 105.672 to 105.696 do not:

(1) Create a duty of care or basis for liability for personal injury, death or property damage resulting from the use of land for recreational purposes, for gardening, for woodcutting or for the harvest of special forest products.

(2) Relieve a person using the land of another for recreational purposes, gardening, woodcutting or the harvest of special forest products from any obligation that the person has to exercise care in use of the land in the activities of the person or from the legal consequences of failure of the person to exercise that care.

105.699  Rules Applicable to State Lands.

The State Forester, under the general supervision of the State Board of Forestry, may adopt any rules considered necessary for the administration of the provisions of ORS 105.672 to 105.696 on state land.

§ 105.700. Prohibiting public access to private land; notice requirements; damages

(1)             In addition to and not in lieu of any other damages that may be claimed, a plaintiff who is a landowner shall receive liquidated damages in an amount not to exceed $1,000 in any action in which the plaintiff establishes that:

(a)             The plaintiff closed the land of the plaintiff as provided in subsection (2) of this section; and

(b)             The defendant entered and remained upon the land of the plaintiff without the permission of the plaintiff.

(2)       A landowner or an agent of the landowner may close the privately owned land of the landowner by posting notice as follows:

(a)             For land through which the public has no right of way, the landowner or agent must place a notice at each outer gate and normal point of access to the land, including both sides of a body of water that crosses the land wherever the body of water intersects an outer boundary line. The notice must be placed on a post, structure or natural object in the form of a sign or a blaze of paint. If a blaze of paint is used, it must consist of at least 50 square inches of fluorescent orange paint, except that when metal fence posts are used, approximately the top six inches of the fence post must be painted. If a sign is used, the sign:

(A)       Must be no smaller than eight inches in height and 11 inches in width;

(B)       Must contain the words “Closed to Entry” or words to that effect in letters no less than one inch in height; and

(C)       Must display the name, business address and phone number, if any, of the landowner or agent of the landowner.

(b)             For land through which or along which the public has an unfenced right of way by means of a public road, the landowner or agent must place:

(A)       A conspicuous sign no closer than 30 feet from the center line of the roadway where it enters the land, containing words substantially similar to “PRIVATE PROPERTY, NO TRESPASSING OFF ROAD NEXT _____ MILES”; or

(B)       A sign or blaze of paint, as described in paragraph (a) of this subsection, no closer than 30 feet from the center line of the roadway at regular intervals of not less than one-fourth mile along the roadway where it borders the land, except that a blaze of paint may not be placed on posts where the public road enters the land.

(3)       Nothing contained in this section prevents emergency or law enforcement vehicles from entering upon the posted land.

(4)       An award of liquidated damages under this section is not subject to ORS 31.725, 31.730 or 31.735.

(5)       Nothing in this section affects any other remedy, civil or criminal, that may be available for a trespass described in this section.

 


City not liable for injuries to BMX rider, riding in City Park on features built without city’s consent

The duty owed by the city to features, structures and changes to the park that the city did not make was low and protected by the recreational use statute in this case.

Wilkerson, v. The City of SeaTac, 2012 Wash. App. LEXIS 2592

State: Washington, Court of Appeals of Washington, Division One

Plaintiff: Jon L. Wilkerson

Defendant: The City of SeaTac

Plaintiff Claims: City breached the duty to use reasonable care in failing to maintain the park and “allowing man-made jumps to remain despite the . . . inherent danger the jumps posed.”

Defendant Defenses: No Duty, and Washington Recreational Use Statute

Holding: For the City

Year: 2012

This is very sad; the plaintiff ended up a quadriplegic because of the accident. This also explains the lawsuit. There is so much money at stake when someone is rendered paralyzed or a quadriplegic that there is bound to be a lawsuit.

In this case, the plaintiff had just moved to the area. He inquired at a local shop where he could practice jumping in anticipation of his trip to Whistler in BC with some friends. The bike shop sent him to Des Moines Trail Park.

The Des Moines Creek Trail Park is a 96-acre woodland preserve open to the public for recreational use. The City of SeaTac (City) owns and operates the portion of the park located within the City, 1 including dirt mounds in the park that bicyclists use as bike jumps. The dirt jumps, known as “the Softies,” are located about a quarter-mile off a paved trail in the park. The City did not create or maintain the dirt jumps.

The plaintiff considered himself an excellent mountain biker and BMX rider. He was used to doing ramps and jumps.

The area was built by people other than the city. It was known as “the softies” by locals. Around 5 pm one day, the plaintiff went to the park to ride. He rode several jumps and scouted them all out before jumping them. He picked out a gap jump, deciding other jumps were outside of his skill set.  While riding the gap jump he crashed and rendered himself a quadriplegic.

The plaintiff could not move and laid calling for help for several hours before passing out.  Approximately 1 AM the next day the city reported the plaintiff’s car in the parking lot. Around 11 am, two cyclists found the plaintiff and notified EMS.

While in a rehabilitation hospital the plaintiff stated: “…that although he was an experienced mountain biker, as he went over the jump, he came down “wrong” because he” ‘was a bit out of practice’ ” and ” ‘a little too bold.’

The plaintiff filed this lawsuit against the city. The trial court dismissed the claims based on the city’s motion for summary judgment, and this appeal followed.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

The appellate court first looked at the defense provided by the Recreational Use Statue of Washington. Chapter 4.24  Special Rights of Action and Special Immunities.

Under Washington’s law a landowner is immune from liability for injuries upon his land unless the injury is “caused by a known dangerous artificial latent condition “for which warning signs have not been conspicuously posted.”

To establish the City was not immune from suit under RCW 4.24.210, Wilkerson must show the City charged a fee for the use of the land, the injuries were intentionally inflicted, or the injuries were sustained by reason of a known dangerous artificial latent condition for which no warning signs were posted. Davis,

The issue then came down to whether or not the jumps were a latent condition. There are four elements the plaintiff must prove to show the jumps were a latent condition.

Each of the four elements of a known dangerous artificial latent injury-causing condition must be present in order to establish liability under the recreational land use statute. “If one of the four elements is not present, a claim cannot survive summary judgment.”

The definition of latent under Washington Law is “means” ‘not readily apparent to the recreational user.”

In determining whether the injury-causing condition is latent, the question is not whether the specific risk is readily apparent but, instead, whether the injury-causing condition itself is readily apparent.

The plaintiff’s experts argued that the approach which was described as an S-curve was a latent condition. However, the court distinguished that argument by stating there was a difference between a latent condition and a patent condition that had latent dangers.

The condition itself must be latent.” While the court expressly acknowledged that “it may not have occurred to Van Dinter that he could injure himself in the way he did,” the court concluded that “this does not show the injury-causing condition — the caterpillar’s placement — was latent. . . . The caterpillar as well as its injury-causing aspect — its proximity to the grassy area — were obvious.”

Nor did the fact that the plaintiff did not appreciate the risk caused by the approach change the condition of the land.

The plaintiff then argued that his secondary injury, lying in the park all-night, suffering hypothermia that required additional surgeries and hospitalizations were not covered by the recreational use statute.

Secondary injuries were not covered under Wisconsin’s Recreational Use Statute. However, the language in the Wisconsin statute differs from the language in the Washington statute.

By contrast, RCW 4.24.200-.210 grants a broader immunity to landowners “who allow members of the public to use [their lands] for the purposes of outdoor recreation.” RCW 4.24.210(1); (because landowner “open[ed] up the lands for recreational use without a fee,” and thereby “brought itself under the protection of the immunity statute,” landowner was immune from liability regardless of whether “a person coming onto the property may have some commercial purpose in mind”).

The court held the immunity provided by the Washington Recreational Use Statute was broadly written and covered the secondary injuries the plaintiff suffered.

The plaintiff then argued the city was willful and wanton or intentional because the city knew that other cyclists had been injured at the park. This argument stemmed from the plaintiff asserting that “that the government’s failure to” ‘put up signs and ropes’ ” was deliberate and the government” ‘knew or should have known’ ” of the dangerous condition.”

However, the court found that this did not rise to the level of willful or wanton or intentional negligence.

Here, as in Jones, there is no dispute that the City did not create the dirt jumps or S-curve approach. While the alleged failure of the City to “bulldoze the Softies” or post warning signs may constitute negligence, it is not willful or wanton conduct under the recreational land use immunity statute.

The plaintiff next argued the defendant had a duty to supervise and patrol the park.

Wilkerson also claims the City assumed a duty to supervise and patrol the park. Wilkerson points to the sign the City posted in the parking lot and the failure to take some action after the City employee saw his car in the parking lot at 1:00 a.m. The sign posted at the entry to the Des Moines Creek Trail Park parking lot stated:

However, this argument also failed because if there was a duty, it was owed to the general public, not to the plaintiff specially.

“Under the public duty doctrine, no liability may be imposed for a public official’s negligent conduct unless it is shown that the duty breached was owed to the injured person as an individual and was not merely the breach of an obligation owed to the public in general (i.e., a duty to all is a duty to no one).”

Because the record shows that the City did not assume a duty or make express assurances to Wilkerson, the public duty doctrine bars his claim that the City owed him a duty of care.

The appellate court agreed with the trial court, and the dismissal of the lawsuit was affirmed.

So Now What?

It is sad when any activity renders someone, especially a young person, a quadriplegic. However, sometimes, you have to accept the fact you screwed up, or misjudged the jump, as the plaintiff admitted to in the rehab hospital and live with your mistakes.

If you are such a person, but as much disability, health and life insurance that you can afford, it may be the only way to stay somewhat better off than what the government can provide.

From the stand point of the defendant city, you need to understand your duty and your level of duty to features, additions or other things that are added to a park or city property without your permission or without you exercising control over the situation.

Not all cities can escape liability when a group of people add to a park.

 

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Washington Recreational Use Statute

Title 4  Civil Procedure 

Chapter 4.24  Special Rights of Action and Special Immunities

Rev. Code Wash. (ARCW) § 4.24.200  (2016)

4.24.200.  Liability of owners or others in possession of land and water areas for injuries to recreation users — Purpose.

The purpose of RCW 4.24.200 and 4.24.210 is to encourage owners or others in lawful possession and control of land and water areas or channels to make them available to the public for recreational purposes by limiting their liability toward persons entering thereon and toward persons who may be injured or otherwise damaged by the acts or omissions of persons entering thereon.

HISTORY: 1969 ex.s. c 24 § 1; 1967 c 216 § 1.

4.24.210.  Liability of owners or others in possession of land and water areas for injuries to recreation users — Known dangerous artificial latent conditions — Other limitations.

(1) Except as otherwise provided in subsection (3) or (4) of this section, any public or private landowners, hydroelectric project owners, or others in lawful possession and control of any lands whether designated resource, rural, or urban, or water areas or channels and lands adjacent to such areas or channels, who allow members of the public to use them for the purposes of outdoor recreation, which term includes, but is not limited to, the cutting, gathering, and removing of firewood by private persons for their personal use without purchasing the firewood from the landowner, hunting, fishing, camping, picnicking, swimming, hiking, bicycling, skateboarding or other nonmotorized wheel-based activities, aviation activities including, but not limited to, the operation of airplanes, ultra-light airplanes, hanggliders, parachutes, and paragliders, rock climbing, the riding of horses or other animals, clam digging, pleasure driving of off-road vehicles, snowmobiles, and other vehicles, boating, kayaking, canoeing, rafting, nature study, winter or water sports, viewing or enjoying historical, archaeological, scenic, or scientific sites, without charging a fee of any kind therefor, shall not be liable for unintentional injuries to such users.

(2) Except as otherwise provided in subsection (3) or (4) of this section, any public or private landowner or others in lawful possession and control of any lands whether rural or urban, or water areas or channels and lands adjacent to such areas or channels, who offer or allow such land to be used for purposes of a fish or wildlife cooperative project, or allow access to such land for cleanup of litter or other solid waste, shall not be liable for unintentional injuries to any volunteer group or to any other users.

(3) Any public or private landowner, or others in lawful possession and control of the land, may charge an administrative fee of up to twenty-five dollars for the cutting, gathering, and removing of firewood from the land.

(4)       (a) Nothing in this section shall prevent the liability of a landowner or others in lawful possession and control for injuries sustained to users by reason of a known dangerous artificial latent condition for which warning signs have not been conspicuously posted.

(i) A fixed anchor used in rock climbing and put in place by someone other than a landowner is not a known dangerous artificial latent condition and a landowner under subsection (1) of this section shall not be liable for unintentional injuries resulting from the condition or use of such an anchor.

(ii) Releasing water or flows and making waterways or channels available for kayaking, canoeing, or rafting purposes pursuant to and in substantial compliance with a hydroelectric license issued by the federal energy regulatory commission, and making adjacent lands available for purposes of allowing viewing of such activities, does not create a known dangerous artificial latent condition and hydroelectric project owners under subsection (1) of this section shall not be liable for unintentional injuries to the recreational users and observers resulting from such releases and activities.

(b) Nothing in RCW 4.24.200 and this section limits or expands in any way the doctrine of attractive nuisance.

(c) Usage by members of the public, volunteer groups, or other users is permissive and does not support any claim of adverse possession.

(5) For purposes of this section, the following are not fees:

(a) A license or permit issued for statewide use under authority of chapter 79A.05 RCW or Title 77 RCW;

(b) A pass or permit issued under RCW 79A.80.020, 79A.80.030, or 79A.80.040; and

(c) A daily charge not to exceed twenty dollars per person, per day, for access to a publicly owned ORV sports park, as defined in RCW 46.09.310, or other public facility accessed by a highway, street, or nonhighway road for the purposes of off-road vehicle use.

HISTORY: 2012 c 15 § 1. Prior: 2011 c 320 § 11; 2011 c 171 § 2; 2011 c 53 § 1; 2006 c 212 § 6; prior: 2003 c 39 § 2; 2003 c 16 § 2; 1997 c 26 § 1; 1992 c 52 § 1; prior: 1991 c 69 § 1; 1991 c 50 § 1; 1980 c 111 § 1; 1979 c 53 § 1; 1972 ex.s. c 153 § 17; 1969 ex.s. c 24 § 2; 1967 c 216 § 2.


Wilkerson, v. The City of SeaTac, 2012 Wash. App. LEXIS 2592

Wilkerson, v. The City of SeaTac, 2012 Wash. App. LEXIS 2592

Jon L. Wilkerson, Appellant, v. The City of SeaTac, Respondent.

No. 66524-3-I

COURT OF APPEALS OF WASHINGTON, DIVISION ONE

2012 Wash. App. LEXIS 2592

April 17, 2012, Oral Argument

November 5, 2012, Filed

NOTICE:

As amended by order of the Court of Appeals March 27, 2013. RULES OF THE WASHINGTON COURT OF APPEALS MAY LIMIT CITATION TO UNPUBLISHED OPINIONS. PLEASE REFER TO THE WASHINGTON RULES OF COURT.

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Reported at Wilkerson v. City of SeaTac, 171 Wn. App. 1023, 2012 Wash. App. LEXIS 2614 (2012)

Reconsideration denied by, Modified by Wilkerson v. City of SeaTac, 2013 Wash. App. LEXIS 797 (Wash. Ct. App., Mar. 27, 2013)

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]

Appeal from King County Superior Court. Docket No: 09-2-23226-1. Judgment or order under review. Date filed: 12/10/2010. Judge signing: Honorable Michael C Hayden.

CORE TERMS: jump, recreational, latent, land use, bike, landowner, gap, summary judgment, immunity, dirt, speed, wanton, injury-causing, willful, trail, pitch, lead-in, user, parking lot, “appreciate”, creek, softies, owed, mountain, readily apparent, artificial, recreation, channel, posted, stump

COUNSEL: Noah Christian Davis, In Pacta PLLC, Seattle, WA, for Appellant(s).

Francis Stanley Floyd, Nicholas L. Jenkins, Floyd Pflueger & Ringer PS, Seattle, WA; Mary E. Mirante Bartolo, City of Seatac, Seatac, WA; Mark Sterling Johnsen, City of Seatac Legal Dept, Seatac, WA, for Respondent(s).

JUDGES: AUTHOR: Ann Schindler, J. WE CONCUR: Anne Ellington, JPT., C. Kenneth Grosse, J.

OPINION BY: Ann Schindler

OPINION

¶1 Schindler, J. — Jon Wilkerson challenges the decision on summary judgment to dismiss his lawsuit against the City of SeaTac based on the recreational land use immunity statute, RCW 4.24.200-.210. We affirm.

FACTS

¶2 The Des Moines Creek Trail Park is a 96-acre woodland preserve open to the public for recreational use. The City of SeaTac (City) owns and operates the portion of the park located within the City, 1 including dirt mounds in the park that bicyclists use as bike jumps. The dirt jumps, known as “the Softies,” are located about a quarter-mile off a paved trail in the park. The City did not create or maintain the dirt jumps.

1 The City of Des Moines and [*2] the Port of Seattle own and operate other portions of the park.

¶3 In June 2006, 30-year-old Jon Wilkerson moved from Arkansas to Kent, Washington to work as a physical therapist. Wilkerson had plans to go mountain biking at Whistler in British Columbia with friends in July. Wilkerson testified that he considered himself an “experienced mountain biker” and had previously used BMX 2 and mountain bikes to do ramp and dirt jumps.

2 (Bicycle motocross.)

¶4 About a week after moving to Kent, Wilkerson went to a bike shop to buy a new helmet. Wilkerson asked the bike shop manager “about nearby parks that had dirt jumps — where I could ride my bike and practice making jumps in anticipation of [the] bike trip to Whistler with friends.” The bike shop manager told Wilkerson about the Des Moines Creek Trail Park and the “BMX style dirt jump[s],” and “told [him] how to get to [the Softies].”

¶5 On June 21, Wilkerson drove to the Des Moines Creek Trail Park. Wilkerson arrived at the park between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. and parked his Ford Expedition in the parking lot located at South 200th Street. Wilkerson left his cell phone in his car. Wilkerson testified that he went to the park that day to train and “work[] [*3] on jumps that I knew that I would need to be able to clear at Whistler. . . . I was working that day to prepare to do more advanced techniques at Whistler.”

¶6 After riding around the park for about 30 to 45 minutes on “single [bike] track trails,” Wilkerson testified that he followed the directions he received from the bike shop manager to get to the Softies. Wilkerson said he “rode down a ravine, crossed a creek, walked [his] bike up and the softies were on the right.” When he arrived at the Softies, no one else was there.

¶7 Wilkerson testified that he examined the dirt jumps and understood the importance of the “approach speed,” as well as the condition of the track and the height and pitch of the jumps. Wilkerson said that he rode his bike over the jumps to “try some of them out” before selecting a smaller “gap jump.” Wilkerson said he decided the other jumps “weren’t within my skill set” because they were “too steep” and “too close together,” and concluded the smaller gap jump was “within my skill set.”

¶8 The dirt jump Wilkerson selected contained “two mounds with a gap in between.” Wilkerson testified that he inspected the jump before attempting it, and rode down the approach to check [*4] the pitch and surface composition.

Q But you did check the jump out before you went off of it, correct?

A I did.

Q And, you rode down and actually, with the intention of checking it out before you went off of it, correct?

A I did.

Q And, you were looking for things like the pitch of the jump, correct?

A Yes.

Q You were looking to see if the composition of the surfaces was adequate, correct?

A Yes.

Q You were looking to see if the jump was safe before you went off of it, correct?

A Yes.

¶9 Wilkerson testified that he concluded “there was enough of a grade to [carry] me into [sic] with a moderate to fast amount of speed.” Wilkerson admitted that it had been at least a couple of years “since I’d done a gap jump.” But Wilkerson said that he had no concerns about his ability to accomplish the jump.

¶10 In his declaration in opposition to summary judgment, Wilkerson states he “reviewed” the jump, including “the pitch of the take-off jump itself and the size of the jump and the gap and thought everything looked ok,” but “did not take a practice ‘run in.'” The declaration states, in pertinent part:

14. I then rode over to a smaller jump (which had a crevice or drop in the middle) called a gap jump and felt that it was well within my “skill set”;

15. I then generally reviewed the jump, including the pitch of the take-off jump itself and the size of the jump and the gap and thought everything looked ok;

16. That is, looking at the jump itself, it looked fine for me to take;

17. I did not measure the gap width, nor the pitch of the jump nor the pitch of the landing;

… .

23. I also did not take a practice “run in” leading up to the jump because I had no reason to think that there was some danger to me from the approach to the jump or that the approach would be problematic or prevent me from clearing the jump.

¶11 Wilkerson testified that he “gauged the speed to be appropriate for the gap” and approached the jump “moderate to fast, the speed needed to get over the gap.” Wilkerson missed the jump and “[t]umbled forward” over the front of the bike. Wilkerson testified, in pertinent part:

On the back side of the jump for some reason my back wheel didn’t make it all the way over the berm of the back side of the jump. So, [*5] it impacted the top of the berm, rebounded and knocked me over the front of the bicycle.

¶12 Wilkerson hit the ground head-first and landed on his back five or six feet beyond the jump. Wilkerson was unable to move. Wilkerson called for help for some time before losing consciousness.

¶13 At about 1:00 a.m., a City employee reported seeing Wilkerson’s car in the parking lot. Two bicyclists found Wilkerson at about 11:00 a.m. and called 911. Emergency personnel immediately responded and transported Wilkerson to Harborview Medical Center. Wilkerson suffered from hypothermia and went into cardiac arrest. During “life-saving efforts,” Wilkerson’s lung was lacerated. Wilkerson successfully underwent surgery for the laceration. The doctors at Harborview diagnosed Wilkerson with a C4-C6 vertebra fracture. Wilkerson is quadriplegic.

¶14 After an assessment in Arkansas in September 2006, Wilkerson participated in the program at the Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation in Texas. During the assessment, Wilkerson said that although he was an experienced mountain biker, as he went over the jump, he came down “wrong” because he ” ‘was a bit out of practice’ ” and ” ‘a little too bold.’ ”

¶15 Wilkerson filed a lawsuit [*6] against the City alleging the City breached the duty to use reasonable care in failing to maintain the park and “allowing man-made jumps to remain despite the . . . inherent danger the jumps posed.” The complaint also alleged the City breached the duty to supervise the park and report Wilkerson’s vehicle “to authorities.” Wilkerson claimed the failure to report seeing his car in the parking lot caused him to suffer hypothermia and injury to his lungs. The City denied the allegations and asserted a number of affirmative defenses, including immunity under the recreational land use statute, RCW 4.24.200-.210.

¶16 The City filed a motion for partial summary judgment to dismiss the claim that the City breached the duty to remove the dirt jumps. The City argued that because there was no evidence of a known dangerous artificial latent condition, the claim was barred by the recreational land use statute.

¶17 Wilkerson argued there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether the approach to the gap jump was a known dangerous artificial latent condition. Wilkerson also argued that the City’s failure to remove, redesign, or maintain the dirt jumps was “willful and wanton conduct [that] rises to [*7] the level of intentional conduct.”

¶18 In support of his argument that the approach to the gap jump was a latent condition, Wilkerson submitted the declarations of Samuel Morris, Jr., a professional mountain bike racer; Lee Bridgers, the owner of a company that conducts mountain bike jumping clinics; and his own declaration. 3

3 In support of his assertion that the approach to the gap jump was a “known” and “dangerous” condition, Wilkerson submitted excerpts from the deposition of the City’s Acting Fire Chief and incident reports of bicycle accidents.

¶19 In his declaration, Wilkerson states that he did not “see[] or appreciate[] the S-curved, angled lead-in to the jump.” Morris states that in his opinion,

it was not the jump itself that caused Jon to crash, but the curvy nature of the lead-in, or approach, to the jump, which more probably than not reduced his speed enough to prevent him from successfully completing the jump. . . . While Jon testified that he reviewed the size of the gap and the pitch of the jump, what he did not consider and what a beginner to even an intermediate jumper would mostly likely not consider because of the subtleness is the curved approach leading into the jump and [*8] the effect that the approach would have on the ability of the rider to complete the jump. These conditions would not be apparent to a rider of Jon’s skill level.

¶20 Bridgers testified that the cause of the crash was the “lack of speed due to the twists and turns in the approach.”

[T]he curvy lead-in to the jump prevented Jon from successfully attaining the speed necessary to complete the jump and was the primary cause of Jon’s injury.

Bridgers stated that in his opinion, Wilkerson did not appreciate the S-curve approach.

While the S-curve after the berm is not visibly dramatic, it affects the direction, physics, and speed of the rider attempting to take the jump and therefore has a significant impact on the rider’s ability to successfully clear the jump, especially on a first attempt. This is something that Jon obviously did not notice or appreciate and which clearly had an impact on his ability to make the jump.

¶21 The court granted the motion for partial summary judgment. Even assuming the effect of the S-curve approach to the jump was not readily apparent to Wilkerson, the court concluded it was not a latent condition. The court ruled that as a matter of law, the inability to appreciate the [*9] risk does not constitute a latent condition.

So for purposes of the summary judgment, I am assuming that the trail, the approach leading to the jump was curved in some fashion such that it would have limited the speed of a biker who arrived at the jump site.

I am going to further conclude, for purposes of the summary judgment, that it would not have been readily apparent to the biker that he could not acquire sufficient speed to clear the jump.

[T]here is no testimony that you couldn’t see the path. The path was there. The path was not submerged; it was not invisible. Whether it was straight or curved, it was the path that one could see.

. . . .

[T]here are no cases where the courts have said you can look directly at it, you can see what is there to be seen, and the inability to appreciate the risk posed constitutes latency. I didn’t see any cases like that.

I find as a matter of law that the lead up, whether it was curved or straight, is not the latent condition required under the statute, and it does not abrogate the statutory immunity.

¶22 The court also concluded there was no evidence that the City acted with willful and wanton disregard for a danger posed by the Softies.

I would also suggest [*10] that there is no evidence here that would rise to the level of willful and wanton disregard, if indeed that is the standard in Washington.

I will accept for a summary judgment proposition that the city knew or should have known these jumps were out there, they knew or should have known that they were dangerous and there have been prior accidents, and that they did not go in and sign it or remov[e them i]s not the standard for recreational use immunity.

¶23 The “Order Granting Defendant SeaTac’s Motion for Summary Judgment Re: Recreational Use Immunity” dismisses the claim that “the City of SeaTac owed [Wilkerson] a duty to protect him from his failed mountain bike jump” at the Des Moines Creek Trail Park. The court denied Wilkerson’s motion for reconsideration.

¶24 The City then filed a motion for summary judgment dismissal of Wilkerson’s claim that the City breached the duty to supervise the park and report seeing Wilkerson’s vehicle in the parking lot. The City argued that the recreational land use statute and the public duty doctrine barred these claims.

¶25 Wilkerson argued the recreational land use statute did not apply to the cardiac and lung injuries he suffered as a result of remaining in [*11] the park overnight because he was no longer engaged in recreation. Wilkerson also argued that the City assumed a duty to users of the park to exercise reasonable care in patrolling the park.

¶26 The court granted summary judgment. The court ruled that the recreational land use statute barred Wilkerson’s claim that the City was liable for the injuries Wilkerson suffered as a result of the crash. The court’s oral ruling states, in pertinent part:

I mean to suggest that a landowner is immune from someone using their land for recreation, but if they get hurt, then a new duty arises to come take care of them and to use reasonable efforts to make sure they are safe after they are injured, as opposed to being safe before they are injured, really stretches it too far.

[T]o suggest the landowner has a duty not to protect the person from injury, but to treat them after they are injured, or to be alert to the fact of injury, even though they are not alert to prevent the injury, makes no sense.

So I am ruling that in the circumstances of having failed to detect him injured on site and failed to having brought medical services to him fast enough, the city is still acting in its capacity as landowner.

The [*12] “Order Granting Defendant SeaTac’s Motion for Summary Judgment Re: Duty to Rescue” dismisses Wilkerson’s claim that the City “owed him a duty to supervise and rescue him sooner.” 4

4 Wilkerson filed a motion to compel the City to produce discovery, which the court denied. Wilkerson appeals the order denying the motion to compel but does not assign error to the order or address it in the briefs. Accordingly, the issue is waived. RAP 10.3(a)(4); Hollis v. Garwall, Inc., 137 Wn.2d 683, 689 n.4, 974 P.2d 836 (1999).

ANALYSIS

¶27 Wilkerson contends the trial court erred in dismissing his negligence claims against the City under the recreational land use immunity statute, RCW 4.24.200-.210, and the court erred in concluding that the statute barred his claim for “hypothermia and cardiac and lung injuries.”

¶28 We review summary judgment de novo and consider the facts and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Hearst Commc’ns, Inc. v. Seattle Times Co., 154 Wn.2d 493, 501, 115 P.3d 262 (2005). Summary judgment is appropriate only if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Bulman v. Safeway, Inc., 144 Wn.2d 335, 351, 27 P.3d 1172 (2001). [*13] A party cannot rely on allegations in the pleadings, speculation, or argumentative assertions that factual issues remain. White v. State, 131 Wn.2d 1, 9, 929 P.2d 396 (1997).

¶29 The recreational land use statute, RCW 4.24.200-.210, grants immunity to landowners for unintentional injuries to recreational users of the land.

¶30 The statute modifies a landowner’s common law duty in order “to encourage landowners to open their lands to the public for recreational purposes.” Davis v. State, 144 Wn.2d 612, 616, 30 P.3d 460 (2001). Because the recreational land use statute is in derogation of common law, it is strictly construed. Matthews v. Elk Pioneer Days, 64 Wn. App. 433, 437, 824 P.2d 541 (1992).

¶31 Under RCW 4.24.200, the purpose of the recreational land use statute is to

encourage owners or others in lawful possession and control of land and water areas or channels to make them available to the public for recreational purposes by limiting their liability toward persons entering thereon and toward persons who may be injured or otherwise damaged by the acts or omissions of persons entering thereon. [5]

5 The legislature amended the statute several times between 2006 and 2012. Laws of 2006, ch. 212, § 6; [*14] Laws of 2011, ch. 53, § 1; Laws of 2011 ch. 171, § 2; Laws of 2011 ch. 320, § 11; Laws of 2012 ch. 15, § 1. The amendments are not pertinent to this appeal.

¶32 Under RCW 4.24.210, a landowner is immune from liability for unintentional injuries unless the injury is caused by a known dangerous artificial latent condition “for which warning signs have not been conspicuously posted.” RCW 4.24.210 states, in pertinent part:

(1) [A]ny public or private landowners . . . or others in lawful possession and control of any lands whether designated resource, rural, or urban, or water areas or channels and lands adjacent to such areas or channels, who allow members of the public to use them for the purposes of outdoor recreation, which term includes, but is not limited to, . . . bicycling, . . . without charging a fee of any kind therefor, shall not be liable for unintentional injuries to such users.

. . . .

(4)(a) Nothing in this section shall prevent the liability of a landowner or others in lawful possession and control for injuries sustained to users by reason of a known dangerous artificial latent condition for which warning signs have not been conspicuously posted.

¶33 To establish the City was not immune [*15] from suit under RCW 4.24.210, Wilkerson must show the City charged a fee for the use of the land, the injuries were intentionally inflicted, or the injuries were sustained by reason of a known dangerous artificial latent condition for which no warning signs were posted. Davis, 144 Wn.2d at 616.

¶34 Here, there is no dispute that the Des Moines Creek Trail Park was open to the public for recreational purposes and no fee was charged. The parties dispute whether the injury-causing condition was latent. Each of the four elements of a known dangerous artificial latent injury-causing condition must be present in order to establish liability under the recreational land use statute. Ravenscroft v. Wash. Water Power Co., 136 Wn.2d 911, 920, 969 P.2d 75 (1998). “If one of the four elements is not present, a claim cannot survive summary judgment.” Davis, 144 Wn.2d at 616.

¶35 Wilkerson asserts there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether the S-curve lead-in was a latent condition, and whether a recreational user would recognize the danger of the S-curve approach. Wilkerson contends the S-curve “lead-in to the jump” caused his injuries.

¶36 For purposes of the recreational land use statute, RCW 4.24.210, [*16] “latent” means ” ‘not readily apparent to the recreational user.’ ” Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 924 (quoting Van Dinter v. City of Kennewick, 121 Wn.2d 38, 45, 846 P.2d 522 (1993)). In determining whether the injury-causing condition is latent, the question is not whether the specific risk is readily apparent but, instead, whether the injury-causing condition itself is readily apparent. Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 924. A landowner will not be held liable where a patent condition posed a latent, or unobvious, danger. Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 46. Although latency is a factual question, when reasonable minds could reach but one conclusion from the evidence presented, summary judgment is appropriate. Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 47.

¶37 Even viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Wilkerson, as a matter of law, the S-curve lead-in was not a latent condition. At most, the S-curve approach is a patent condition that “posed a latent, or unobvious, danger.” Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 46.

¶38 In Van Dinter, the Washington Supreme Court addressed the difference between a latent condition and a latent danger. In Van Dinter, Van Dinter struck his eye on a protruding metal antenna of a caterpillar-shaped [*17] playground toy located next to the grassy area at the park where he was engaged in a water fight. Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 40. Van Dinter stated that “he did not realize someone on the grass could collide with any part of the caterpillar.” Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 40. Van Dinter asserted “a condition is latent for purposes of RCW 4.24.210 if its injury-producing aspect is not readily apparent to the ordinary recreational user,” and argued that “while the caterpillar was obvious, its injury-causing aspect was not.” Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 45.

¶39 The court disagreed with Van Dinter and held that “RCW 4.24.210 does not hold landowners potentially liable for patent conditions with latent dangers. The condition itself must be latent.” Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 46. While the court expressly acknowledged that “it may not have occurred to Van Dinter that he could injure himself in the way he did,” the court concluded that “this does not show the injury-causing condition — the caterpillar’s placement — was latent. . . . The caterpillar as well as its injury-causing aspect — its proximity to the grassy area — were obvious.” Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 46.

¶40 Here, Wilkerson’s experts testified that the [*18] danger posed by the S-curve approach was not “obvious” to “beginning to intermediate” bike jumpers.

[T]he S-curve . . . affects the direction, physics, and speed of the rider attempting to take the jump . . . . It is my opinion that the dangers posed by the S-curved lead-in to the jump were not obvious for [Wilkerson] and other beginning to intermediate jumpers. [6]

6 (Emphases added.)

¶41 Morris testified that it was unlikely that Wilkerson or other jumpers would “consider . . . the effect that the approach would have.”

While [Wilkerson] testified that he reviewed the size of the gap and the pitch of the jump, what he did not consider and what a beginner to even an intermediate jumper would most likely not consider because of the subtleness is the curved approach leading into the jump and the effect that the approach would have on the ability of the rider to complete the jump. [7]

7 (Emphases added.)

¶42 The testimony that Wilkerson did not “appreciate” the danger of the S-curve approach to the jump does not establish a latent condition. As in Van Dinter, at most, Wilkerson’s failure to “appreciate” the S-curve lead-in “shows that the present situation is one in which a patent condition posed a latent, [*19] or unobvious, danger.” Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 46.

¶43 The cases Wilkerson relies on, Ravenscroft and Cultee v. City of Tacoma, 95 Wn. App. 505, 977 P.2d 15 (1999), are distinguishable. In Ravenscroft, a man was injured when the boat he was riding in hit a rooted tree stump submerged in a channel of water that formed part of a dam reservoir. Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 915. The driver of the boat testified that “he saw nothing that would indicate the presence of any submerged objects or hazards in the direction he was traveling.” Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 916. Other witnesses testified that other boats had hit the stumps. Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 925.

¶44 The court identified the injury-causing condition as the “man-created water course, containing a submerged line of tree stumps” that was “created by [the Washington Water Power Company] cutting down trees, leaving stumps near the middle of a water channel, then raising the river to a level which covered the stumps.” Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 923. The court concluded that summary judgment was not appropriate because “[t]he record does not support a conclusion that the submerged stumps near the middle of the channel were obvious or visible as [*20] a matter of law.” Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 926.

¶45 In Cultee, a five-year-old girl rode a bicycle on a road with an eroded edge that was partially flooded by the Hood Canal tidal waters. Cultee, 95 Wn. App. at 509. The girl fell into the water and drowned at a point where the road and the eroded edge were covered by two to four inches of muddy water and the adjacent fields were covered with several feet of water. Cultee, 95 Wn. App. at 510. The court held there were material issues of fact about whether the condition that killed the girl was “the depth of the water alone, or a combination of the muddy water obscuring the eroded edge of the road and an abrupt drop into deep water;” and whether ” ‘recreational users’ would have been able to see the edge of the road, given that it was eroded and covered with a two-to-four-inch layer of muddy water.” Cultee, 95 Wn. App. at 523.

¶46 Wilkerson also argues that the trial court erred in concluding the recreational land use statute bars his claim for cardiac and lung injuries. Wilkerson argues the statute does not apply to the injuries he suffered after he missed the jump because he was not “engaged in recreation” or “using” the land when he suffered [*21] cardiac and lung injuries.

¶47 Wilkerson relies on Wisconsin law in support of his argument that the recreational land use statute does not apply to secondary injuries. But unlike RCW 4.24.210(1), the Wisconsin statute predicates landowner immunity on recreational use. The Wisconsin statute states, in pertinent part: “[N]o owner . . . is liable for . . . any injury to . . . a person engaging in recreational activity on the owner’s property.” Wis. Stat. § 895.52(2)(b). By contrast, RCW 4.24.200-.210 grants a broader immunity to landowners “who allow members of the public to use [their lands] for the purposes of outdoor recreation.” RCW 4.24.210(1); see also Gaeta v. Seattle City Light, 54 Wn. App. 603, 608-10, 774 P.2d 1255 (1989) (because landowner “open[ed] up the lands for recreational use without a fee,” and thereby “brought itself under the protection of the immunity statute,” landowner was immune from liability regardless of whether “a person coming onto the property may have some commercial purpose in mind”).

¶48 Next, Wilkerson argues that the City’s willful and wanton or intentional conduct precludes immunity under the recreational land use statute because the City knew that other bicyclists [*22] had been injured. Jones v. United States, 693 F.2d 1299 (9th Cir. 1982), does not support Wilkerson’s argument.

¶49 In Jones, the plaintiff went to Hurricane Ridge located in Olympic National Park as part of a church-sponsored event. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1300. The plaintiff was severely injured while riding on an inner tube at Hurricane Ridge. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1300. The plaintiff sued the church and the federal government. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1300. The jury returned a verdict against the church but found the plaintiff was also negligent. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1301. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the federal government under Washington’s recreational land use statute on the grounds that the plaintiff did not establish the government’s conduct was willful or wanton. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1300-01. 8

8

The evidence established that the extent of the danger was not actually or reasonably known to the Government. Its failure to put up signs and ropes was negligence which proximately contributed to the plaintiff’s accident but it did not constitute “an intentional failure to do an act” nor was it “in reckless disregard of the consequences.”

Jones, 693 F.2d at 1304 (internal quotation marks [*23] omitted).

¶50 On appeal, the plaintiff argued the court erred in concluding the government’s conduct was not willful or wanton under the recreational land use statute. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1301. The plaintiff asserted that the government’s failure to ” ‘put up signs and ropes’ ” was deliberate and the government ” ‘knew or should have known’ ” of the dangerous condition. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1304.

¶51 The Ninth Circuit affirmed. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1305. The Court distinguished cases that involved specific acts of the government that create a dangerous condition, and held that ” ‘[w]anton misconduct is not negligence since it involves intent rather than inadvertence, and is positive rather than negative.’ ” Jones, 693 F.2d at 1305 n.21 (quoting Adkisson v. City of Seattle, 42 Wn.2d 676, 687, 258 P.2d 461 (1953)). Because the government did not create the injury-causing condition, and the ” ‘impact of tubing and the inherent dangers . . . were not apparent to the public or the Government,’ ” the Court concluded the failure to put up signs or ropes was not intentional and willful or wanton conduct under the recreational land use statute. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1305.

We agree with the district court that, [*24] “While it was negligence on the Government’s part not to put up signs or ropes, its failure to do so does not rise to the status of willful and wanton conduct under the law of Washington.”

Jones, 693 F.2d at 1305.

¶52 Here, as in Jones, there is no dispute that the City did not create the dirt jumps or S-curve approach. While the alleged failure of the City to “bulldoze the Softies” or post warning signs may constitute negligence, it is not willful or wanton conduct under the recreational land use immunity statute.

¶53 Wilkerson also claims the City assumed a duty to supervise and patrol the park. Wilkerson points to the sign the City posted in the parking lot and the failure to take some action after the City employee saw his car in the parking lot at 1:00 a.m. The sign posted at the entry to the Des Moines Creek Trail Park parking lot stated:

Park is patrolled by City of SeaTac Police Department . . .

Park is operated by City of SeaTac Parks & Recreation Department . . .

. . . .

Park is closed from dusk to dawn unless otherwise posted

. . . .

Parking . . . is only permitted during park hours.

. . . .

Unauthorized vehicles will be impounded.

¶54 But in order to establish liability, Wilkerson must show there [*25] is a duty owed to him and not a duty owed to the public in general. Babcock v. Mason County Fire Dist. No. 6, 144 Wn.2d 774, 785, 30 P.3d 1261 (2001).

“Under the public duty doctrine, no liability may be imposed for a public official’s negligent conduct unless it is shown that the duty breached was owed to the injured person as an individual and was not merely the breach of an obligation owed to the public in general (i.e., a duty to all is a duty to no one).”

Babcock, 144 Wn.2d at 785 (quoting Taylor v. Stevens County, 111 Wn.2d 159, 163, 759 P.2d 447 (1988) 9). Because the record shows that the City did not assume a duty or make express assurances to Wilkerson, the public duty doctrine bars his claim that the City owed him a duty of care. Babcock, 144 Wn.2d at 785-86.

9 (Internal quotation marks and citation omitted.)

¶55 We affirm dismissal of Wilkerson’s lawsuit against the City.

Grosse, J., and Ellington, J. Pro Tem., concur.

After modification, further reconsideration denied March 27, 2013.


Wisconsin Supreme Court voids another release because it violates public policy. Public Policy as defined in Wisconsin requires the ability to bargain before signing the release.

Plaintiff was struck by the balloon before the ride occurred. Defendant admitted he screwed up so it helped the court prove they should be liable.

Roberts v. T.H.E. Insurance Company, et al., 2016 WI 20; 2016 Wisc. LEXIS 121

State: Wisconsin, Supreme Court of Wisconsin

Plaintiff: Patti J. Roberts and David Roberts

Defendant: T.H.E. Insurance Company, Sundog Ballooning, LLC, Kerry M. Hanson and Jodi L. Hanson

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Recreational Use Statute & Release

Holding: for the Plaintiff

Year: 2016

This is a crazy set of facts that created this decision. The defendants were providing balloon rides at an event to support a fund-raiser for a charity. No charge was being made for the rides. The balloon was tethered to two trees and a truck and was raised and lowered with people wanting a ride in the balloon basket.

The plaintiff and her family decided to go for a ride. The plaintiff signed the release and was waiting in line for her ride. One of the tethers’s holding the balloon broke and the plaintiff was struck by the balloon.

The plaintiff had not given her release back to the balloon operator before she was struck. The release was found on the ground after her injury.

The trial court, called the circuit court in Wisconsin, had granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, which was upheld by the Wisconsin court of Appeals. The basis of the motion for summary judgment was the release and the Wisconsin Recreational Use Statute.

Analysis: making sense of the law based upon these facts.

The court started by pointing out some fairly damaging facts. The Federal Aviation Administration, which governs hot-air ballooning requires balloon operators to have a backup plan if a tether breaks and to keep people far back from the balloon when giving tethered rides. The balloon pilot admitted he did not check the weather, did not have a safety plan and did not keep people far enough away from the balloon.

The evidence submitted to the circuit court demonstrated that defendant Kerry Hanson, the balloon operator, had limited experience with tethered ballooning before giving rides at Green Valley’s event. Hanson testified in his deposition that he should have obtained information regarding weather fronts in the area. Had he known about the weather front on the day Roberts was injured, Hanson testified that he would have suspended the ride.

The first defense raised by the defendant was whether or not the defendant could take advantage of the Wisconsin Recreational Use Statute. The plaintiff argued that the statute could not protect the defendant because her injury was not related to the land or a condition associated with the land. The defendant argued he was providing a recreational service on land for no charge.

Everyone agreed that the plaintiff was on the land to engage in recreational activities.

Given that Roberts was on recreational land open to the public, watching the balloon rides as a spectator, and preparing for the balloon ride by waiting in line, she was engaged in a “recreational activity” as defined by Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(g).

However, the court interpreted the Wisconsin Recreational Use Statute to cover land owners. The defendant balloon operation was not an owner or the land. Owner, under Statute, means an owner, occupier, tenant, etc., of the land.

Nor was the balloon a structure that would qualify as an occupier on the land, and covered by the statute since it could be gathered up and moved.

Here, it was Green Valley and the Conservationists—- not Sundog—-that were responsible for opening the land to the public. The Conservationists allowed Green Valley to host an event on the land. Green Valley was responsible for organizing the event and bringing people onto the land. Sundog provided hot air balloon rides on land that was owned by the Conservationists and occupied by Green Valley. Immunizing Sundog would have no effect on whether the public had access to private land, because Sundog is not responsible for opening the land to the public.

The court found there was a difference between opening up your land to allow recreation and allowing third parties on the land to take advantage of the statute. “Granting immunity to third parties that are not responsible for opening up the land to the public is unsupported by our prior case law.” That means negligent conduct that occurs on the land but not associated with the land is not protected by the statute.

The court then looked at the release. It did not get at the issue as to whether the plaintiff has accepted the terms of the release even though she had signed the release but not given it back to the defendant.

The court looked at the rules for releases, or exculpatory agreements, under Wisconsin law. “This court has found an exculpatory agreement to be invalid if it contains misrepresentations, if it too broadly defines the location and actions covered, or if it is ambiguous and uncertain.”

A release has been held to be void under Wisconsin law if:

(1) the contract served two purposes which were not clearly identified or distinguished; (2) the release was extremely broad and all-inclusive; and (3) the release was in a standardized agreement printed on the Company’s form, offering little or no opportunity for negotiation or free and voluntary bargaining.

Releases are also void if they fail to:

(1) it failed to clearly, unambiguously, and unmistakably explain to the signatory that he was accepting the risk of Hidden Valley’s negligence; and (2) the form when considered in its entirety failed to alert the signer to the nature and significance of the document being signed.

Finally releases can be void if:

(1) the waiver was overly broad and all-inclusive; (2) the form served two functions and did not provide the signer adequate notification of the waiver’s nature and significance; and (3) there was little or no opportunity to bargain or negotiate in regard to the exculpatory language in question.

The court found the defendants release was “overly broad and all-inclusive.” The court explained was this was a problem. “As our prior cases have explained, an agreement cannot be so broad “that it would absolve [the defendant] from any injury to the [plaintiff] for any reason.”

The release was also void because it covered both known and unknown risks. “The waiver in this case would absolve Sundog for any activity for any reason, known or unknown….”

Not only is the waiver overly broad, it is not clear whether waiting in line for the ride is something Roberts would have contemplated as being covered by the waiver, especially because she was not required to return the waiver before she got into the line.

(How can a release be void because it is overly broad and then have the court determine it’s not clear if the overly broad release covers the incident the plaintiff suffered?)

Because the release offered no opportunity for the plaintiff to negotiate the terms, the release was also void.

Second, the release was a standard agreement printed on the company’s form, offering Roberts no opportunity to bargain or negotiate in regard to the exculpatory language in question. “Freedom of contract is premised on a bargain freely and voluntarily made through a bargaining process that has integrity.”

The court simply concluded the release was void for those reasons.

Thus, the liability waiver form is void as a matter of law. It is overly broad, printed on a standard form, and Sundog did not provide Roberts with an opportunity to bargain over the terms of the contract. As our prior case law demands, we will not uphold a waiver of liability that violates public policy.

There were numerous concurring opinions and dissenting opinions in this decision. One judge wrote a concurring opinion looking at the language of the Recreational Use Statute. Three judges dissented based on the recreational Use Statute. Both dissenting judges each wrote a dissenting opinion.

So Now What?

Although the court legally did not void all releases, functionally the court did. Providing an opportunity for the guest to negotiate the release will add months to any process of getting the release signed. You might try a two-tiered approach.  You can pay one price for the standard release, or you can pay five times that price for an assumption of the risk form.

You also might narrow the scope of the release to just a few incidents; however, you still have the requirement to bargain the release.

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