No matter who created the activity or the risk on Town’s land, using the risk was an outdoor recreation activity and protected by the New Hampshire Recreational Use Statute.

Besides if you stand in front of a rope swinging when someone is using it attempting to slap the swinger’s feet as he goes by, and you get flattened by the swinger you should not be able to recover. 

Kurowski v. Town of Chester, 2017 N.H. LEXIS 174

State: New Hampshire, Supreme Court of New Hampshire

Plaintiff: Jay Kurowski F/N/F Christopher Kurowski

Defendant: Town of Chester

Plaintiff Claims: acted negligently and willfully or intentionally by failing to remove the rope swing or post warning signs.

Defendant Defenses: New Hampshire Recreational Use Statute 

Holding: For the Defendant Town 

Year: 2017 

Summary 

The Town had a park with a pond. Someone had put up a rope swing that allowed you to swing into the pond. The town knew about the rope swing and knew that it was possibly hazardous. However, the town never removed the rope swing or posted signs about the hazards it presented. 

The minor plaintiff was standing in front of someone using the rope swing attempting to hit the person’s feet when he was clobbered by the person on the swing suffering injuries. 

The father of the plaintiff sued. The trial court and the appellate court dismissed the case because the New Hampshire Recreational Use Statute provided immunity to the Town for outdoor recreational activities such as this one.

Facts 

The defendant city had a park with a pond. Someone put up a rope swing to use to swing into the pond. The city did not create the rope swing. Several people complained to the city about the rope swing and asked for it to be taken down or signs put up warning against its use.

The Town owns and maintains the Wason Pond Conservation and Recreation Area, which includes walking paths and Wason Pond, and is open to the public free of charge. Since approximately 2012, a rope swing has been attached to a tree overhanging the pond. Neither the plaintiff nor the Town constructed or maintained the swing. People use the rope swing to fling themselves over and into the pond.

The plaintiff, a minor, was at the rope swing. Another person was using the swing to enter the water. The plaintiff was attempting to hit the person’s feet. The person on the swing and the plaintiff collided injuring the plaintiff.

On August 20, 2015, Christopher was at the pond, standing in the path of a person using the swing. While Christopher was attempting to touch the feet of the person swinging on the rope, the two collided, and Christopher was seriously injured.

The father of the minor filed this lawsuit. The city filed a motion for summary judgment asking the compliant be dismissed because the city as the landowner was protected by the New Hampshire Recreational Use Statute

The trial court agreed and dismissed the case. The plaintiff appealed. 

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

The plaintiff first argued that using a rope swing to swing into a pond was not an outdoor recreation activity as defined under the New Hampshire Recreational Use Statute. The court quickly shot this down because the statute did not list everything that was to be protected by the statute it only listed a few things and started that list with the language “including, but not limited to….

The court had found other decisions it had made where it interpreted outdoor recreation activities as covered under the statute even though they were not identified in the statute. 

By its plain terms, the statute’s list of outdoor recreational activities is not exhaustive. Indeed, we have previously applied the principle of ejusdem generis to this provision and concluded that an activity not specifically enumerated — but similar in nature to the activities listed in the statute — may constitute an “outdoor recreational activity.” The principle of ejusdem generis provides that, when specific words in a statute follow general ones, the general words are construed to embrace only objects similar in nature to those enumerated by the specific words.

Looking at the statute and the activity the court found the activity was a water sport and thus covered under the statute. 

We hold that Christopher was actively engaged in an outdoor recreational pursuit sufficiently similar in nature to the enumerated activity of “water sports” to constitute an “outdoor recreational activity” under RSA 212:34, I(c). 

The next argument made by the plaintiff was because the town did not supply the swing, it was not covered under the New Hampshire Recreational Use Statute. The court quickly shot this down finding it does not matter what was used in an outdoor recreational activity or who supplied it.

However, the identity of the person or entity providing the equipment or structure used in an outdoor recreational activity is immaterial. See id. at 56 (finding immaterial the fact that playground equipment used in outdoor activity was provided by landowner rather than user). Indeed, many of the enumerated outdoor recreational activities, for example, hunting, camping, hiking, bicycling, and snowmobiling, see RSA 212:34, I(c),….

The plaintiff next argued the activity was not an outdoor recreational activity because the landowner did not authorize the activity and because the activity was hazardous. The court seemed a little irked when it shot this argument down.

In fact, the statute specifically contemplates that immunity will apply even if the activity at issue involves a known hazardous condition. See RSA 212:34, II (“A landowner owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for outdoor recreational activity or to give any warning of hazardous conditions, uses of, structures, or activities on such premises … . (emphasis added)).

The next argument made by the plaintiff centered around whether or not the actions of the town willful when it failed to post signs about hazards of the activity. The plaintiff argued one version of the definition of the term willful, and the town argued a second. The court found that under either definition, the town was still immune under the statute. Additionally, the court found the actions of the
town were not willful because the plaintiff could not establish the town knew or should have known that an injury would probably result from the activity. 

An allegation that a landowner knew about a particular hazard and did nothing is insufficient to establish that the landowner knew or should have known that injury would probably result from that hazard. At most, such allegations sound in negligence. Therefore, even assuming that the Spires definition applies, we conclude that the plaintiff’s allegations are insufficient as a matter of law to establish that the Town acted “willfully.”

The plaintiff then argued the acts of the town were intentional. That part of the case was dismissed by the trial court because the court found the plaintiff had not alleged enough facts to prove a case of intentional acts on the part of the town. The plaintiff’s argument was:

The plaintiff argues that the Town’s conduct constituted an intentional act for the same reasons he asserts the Town’s conduct was willful — because the Town acknowledged that the rope swing was a hazard, was warned about that hazard on three occasions between 2012 and 2015, did nothing to remove it, and did not post warning signs. 

The court did not agree. There was no proof or pleading that the town had actual or constructive knowledge that its conduct, in failing to post signs or take down the swing, was conduct that was a substantially certain to result in an injury.

At most, the plaintiff’s allegations — that the Town was aware of a hazardous condition or activity and failed to act — sound in negligence. (concluding that allegations that defendant disregarded a substantial risk and failed to act sound in negligence). Accordingly, we hold that the trial court did not err when it found that the plaintiff alleged
insufficient facts to show that the Town’s conduct was willful or intentional.

The decision of the trial court was upheld, and the complaint dismissed.

So Now What? 

This case shows two simple truths for the outdoor recreation industry today. The first, plaintiffs are going to greater lengths to create arguments to litigate over outdoor recreation injuries. The work the plaintiff put in, in order to redefine each word of the statute in a way that did not protect the Town was
substantial and lengthy. 

The second is the statutes have to be written in a way that broadens the protections the legislature intends to give the courts the leeway to dismiss frivolous claims like this. Frivolous because I believe assumption of the risk would be the next defense.

If you stand in front of someone who is holding on to a rope swinging in your direction, and you do so willingly, you assume the risk of getting flattened.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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New Hampshire Recreational Use Statute

 New Hampshire Recreational Use Statute

Title XVIII  Fish and Game

Chapter 212  Propagation of Fish and Game

Liability of Landowners

RSA 212:34  (2017)

212:34.  Duty of Care.

I. In this section:

(a) “Charge” means a payment or fee paid by a person to the landowner for entry upon, or use of the premises, for outdoor recreational activity.

(b) “Landowner” means an owner, lessee, holder of an easement, occupant of the premises, or person managing, controlling, or overseeing the premises on behalf of such owner, lessee, holder of an easement, or occupant of the
premises.

(c) “Outdoor recreational activity” means outdoor recreational pursuits including, but not limited to, hunting, fishing, trapping, camping, horseback riding, bicycling, water sports, winter sports, snowmobiling as defined in RSA 215-C:1, XV, operating an OHRV as defined in RSA 215-A:1, V, hiking, ice and rock climbing or bouldering, or sightseeing upon or removing fuel wood from the premises. 

(d) “Premises” means the land owned, managed, controlled, or overseen by the landowner upon which the outdoor recreational activity subject to this section occurs.

(e) “Ancillary facilities” means facilities commonly associated with outdoor recreational activities, including but not limited to, parking lots, warming shelters, restrooms, outhouses, bridges, and culverts. 

II. A landowner owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for outdoor recreational activity or to give any warning of hazardous conditions, uses of, structures, or activities on such premises to persons entering for such purposes, except as provided in paragraph V. 

II-a. Except as provided in paragraph V, a landowner who permits the use of his or her land for outdoor recreational activity pursuant to this section and who does not charge a fee or seek any other consideration in exchange for allowing such use, owes no duty of care to persons on the premises who are engaged in the construction, maintenance, or expansion of trails or ancillary facilities for outdoor recreational activity.

III. A landowner who gives permission to another to enter or use the premises for outdoor recreational activity does not thereby:

(a) Extend any assurance that the premises are safe for such purpose;

(b) Confer to the person to whom permission has been granted the legal status of an invitee to whom a duty of care is owed; or 

(c) Assume responsibility for or incur liability for an injury to person or property caused by any act of such person to whom permission has been granted, except as provided in paragraph V.

IV. Any warning given by a landowner, whether oral or by sign, guard, or issued by other means, shall not be the basis of liability for a claim that such warning was inadequate or insufficient unless otherwise required under subparagraph V(a).

V. This section does not limit the liability which otherwise exists:

(a) For willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity;

(b) For injury suffered in any case where permission to enter or use the premises for outdoor recreational activity was granted for a charge other than the consideration if any, paid to said landowner by the state;

(c) When the injury was caused by acts of persons to whom permission to enter or use the premises for outdoor recreational activity was granted, to third persons as to whom the landowner owed a duty to keep the premises safe or to warn of danger; or 

(d) When the injury suffered was caused by the intentional act of the landowner.

VI. Except as provided in paragraph V, no cause of action shall exist for a person injured using the premises as provided in paragraph II, engaged in the construction, maintenance, or expansion of trails or ancillary facilities as provided in paragraph II-a, or given permission as provided in paragraph III.

VII. If, as to any action against a landowner, the court finds against the claimant because of the application of this section, it shall determine whether the claimant had a reasonable basis for bringing the action, and if no reasonable basis is found, shall order the claimant to pay for the reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs incurred by the landowner in  defending against the action.

VIII. It is recognized that outdoor recreational activities may be hazardous. Therefore, each person who participates in outdoor recreational activities accepts, as a matter of law, the dangers inherent in such activities, and shall not maintain an action against an owner, occupant, or lessee of land for any injuries which result from such inherent risks, dangers, or hazards. The categories of such risks, hazards, or dangers which the outdoor recreational participant assumes as a matter of law include, but are not limited to, the following: variations in terrain, trails, paths, or roads, surface or subsurface
snow or ice conditions, bare spots, rocks, trees, stumps, and other forms of forest growth or debris, structures on the land, equipment not in use, pole lines, fences, and collisions with other objects or persons.


Non-governmental park not liable under Georgia Recreational Use Statute because cyclists failed to negotiate a barricade. The dangerous condition was open, obvious and visible to all including the deceased.

Because cyclists failed to look up and did not see the barricades in time, does not change the fact the barricades were visible for hundreds of feet.

Stone Mountain Memorial Association v. Amestoy, 337 Ga. App. 467; 788 S.E.2d 110; 2016 Ga. App. LEXIS 358

State: Georgia; Court of Appeals of Georgia

Plaintiff: Nancy Amestoy

Defendant: Stone Mountain Memorial Association

Plaintiff Claims: (1) was liable for Martin’s death due to its failure to warn of the allegedly dangerous condition of the barricades, (2) had actual knowledge that the barricades posed a risk of serious bodily injury or death, and (3) willfully failed to warn of the alleged danger (despite knowing of the risk posed by the barricades).

Defendant Defenses: Georgia Recreational Use Statute

Holding: For the Defendant at trial Court, Plaintiff on appeal 

Year: 2016

Summary

The Georgia Recreational Use Statute extends immunity to non-governmental landowners. Here a cyclist died after failing to look up and see barricades blocking a road. Because the barricades were open and obvious, the Recreational Use Statute protected the landowner from suit. 

Facts 

The deceased was on a bike ride. The road he was riding had been closed for a foot race. The closure was  accomplished by two saw horse barricades. The deceased in attempting to negotiate between them fell suffering head injuries, while wearing a helmet, and died.

…between 7:30 and 7:45 a.m. on the day in question, officers with SMMA’s public-safety department engaged in temporary traffic-control efforts on portions of Stone Mountain Park’s Robert E. Lee Boulevard in anticipation of a 5k walk/run event that was scheduled to begin at 8:00 a.m. These temporary traffic-control efforts consisted of two saw-horse style barricades placed  side-by-side across the road’s southbound lanes, spanning approximately ten-feet wide with an approximately one-and-a-half foot gap between them. Both barricades bore orange and white stripes and “do not enter” signs.

It appeared to witnesses that the deceased did not look up until the last minute to see the barricades. 

…Martin Amestoy was observed riding his bicycle toward the barricades at what a witness believed was a “safe, normal speed”; however, Amestoy’s head was down. Amestoy then traveled between the barricades, striking the inside corner of the lefthand barricade with his handlebar, and was thrown forward off of his bike.3 Although he was wearing a helmet, Amestoy suffered severe head trauma and died later that day. 

The plaintiff, wife of the deceased, sued for:

(1) was liable for Martin’s death due to its failure to warn of the allegedly dangerous condition of the barricades, (2) had actual
knowledge that the barricades posed a risk of serious bodily injury or death, and (3) willfully failed to warn of the alleged danger (despite knowing of the risk posed by the barricades).

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment stating it was not liable because of the Georgia Recreational Use Act. The plaintiff argued that the exception to the act applied, if the landowner of and did not warn of a dangerous condition. The Trial court agreed and the defendant immediately appealed that order. 

SMMA responded and filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that it was immune from suit under the RPA. The trial court ultimately denied SMMA’s motion when it concluded that genuine issues of material fact remained as to whether (1) the barricades were a dangerous condition and (2) SMMA had actual knowledge that this condition was dangerous.

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

The defendant appealed the decision based upon the facts that:

… (1) there was no evidence that it had actual knowledge of a dangerous condition, (2) the allegedly dangerous condition was
open and obvious as a matter of law, and (3) there was no evidence that it willfully failed to warn of the allegedly dangerous condition. Because the allegedly dangerous condition–i.e., the barricades blocking the southbound lanes of Robert E. Lee Boulevard–was open and obvious as a matter of law….

Under the Georgia Recreational Use Act, the landowner owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for others entering the land for recreational purposes.

In enacting the RPA, the General Assembly sought to “encourage property owners to make their property available to the public for recreational purposes by limiting the owners’ liability.”8 In this regard, OCGA § 51-3-22 provides that “an owner of land owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for recreational purposes or to give any warning of a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity on the premises to persons entering for recreational purposes.”

There is a liability for willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity. Under Georgia’s law:

…”willful failure” involves “a conscious, knowing, voluntary, intentional failure, rather than a mere inadvertent, accidental,  involuntary, inattentive, inert, or passive omission.” And malice requires either “an actual intent to cause the particular harm produced or the wanton and [willful] doing of the act with an awareness of the plain and strong likelihood that harm may result.”  Thus, in order for the “willful or malicious failure” exception to apply, Nancy Amestoy must show that the property owner  (SMMA) had actual knowledge that (1) the property was being used for recreational purposes; (2) a condition existed involving unreasonable risk of death or serious bodily harm; (3) the condition was not apparent to those using the property; and (4) having the foregoing knowledge, the property owner chose not to warn users in disregard of the possible con-sequences. Constructive knowledge is insufficient to meet this burden of proof, and the property owner has no duty to inspect the property. Importantly, the plaintiff must satisfy each prong of this four-part test to succeed against a recreational property owner under this exception.

The court held the plaintiff failed to produce any evidence to create a jury question on whether or not the condition was not apparent to those using the property, the third prong of the test.

The court cited witness statements and statements from the investigators that the barriers where visible at least for hundreds of feet. 

Considering the above testimony, Nancy Amestoy presented no evidence that SMMA had actual knowledge that the barricades were not apparent to park users when they were open and obvious, as overwhelmingly demonstrated by the foregoing testimony and photographic evidence.

The Appellate Court reversed the trial court and granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment based on the Georgia Recreational Use Statute

So Now What? 

The first take away is the Georgia Recreational Use Statute protects parks owned non-governmental landowners from suit. The second is, even though the statute has an exception for “willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity,” the landowner must have actual knowledge, not just constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition.

Here because the barricades were visible for hundreds of feet, the barricades did not constitute a dangerous condition. 

If you are a cyclist, look up once in a while. 

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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owners, warning, ‘willful, feet, bicyclist, matter of law, issues of material
fact, recreational, genuine, guard, user, captain, injured party, subjective,
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Recreational Use Statute, Recreational Use, Stone Mountain Memorial
Association, Non-governmental Park,

 

 

 


Georgia Recreational Use Statute

 OFFICIAL CODE OF GEORGIA
ANNOTATED

 TITLE 51.  TORTS

 CHAPTER 3.  LIABILITY OF OWNERS AND OCCUPIERS OF LAND

 ARTICLE 2.  OWNERS OF PROPERTY USED FOR RECREATIONAL
PURPOSES

 § 51-3-20.  Purpose of article

§ 51-3-21.  Definitions

§ 51-3-22.  Duty of owner of land to those using same for recreation generally

§ 51-3-23.  Effect of invitation or permission to use land for recreation

§ 51-3-24.  Applicability of Code Sections 51-3-22 and 51-3-23 to owner of land leased to state or subdivision for recreation

§ 51-3-25.  Certain liability not limited

§ 51-3-26.  Construction of article

§ 51-3-20.  Purpose of article

The purpose of this article is to encourage owners of land to make land and water areas available to the public for recreational purposes by limiting the owners’ liability toward persons entering thereon for recreational purposes.

§ 51-3-21.  Definitions

As used in this article, the term:

(1) “Charge” means the admission price or fee asked in return for invitation or permission to enter or go upon the land.

(2) “Land” means land, roads, water, watercourses, private ways and buildings, structures, and machinery or equipment when attached to the realty. 

(3) “Owner” means the possessor of a fee interest, a tenant, a lessee, an occupant, or a person in control of the premises.

(4) “Recreational purpose” includes, but is not limited to, any of the following or any combination thereof: hunting, fishing, swimming, boating, camping, picnicking, hiking, pleasure driving, aviation activities, nature study, water skiing, winter sports, and viewing or enjoying historical, archeological, scenic, or scientific sites. 

§ 51-3-22. Duty of owner of land to those using same for recreation generally 

Except as specifically recognized by or provided in Code Section 51-3-25, an owner of land owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for recreational purposes or to give any warning of a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity on the premises to persons entering for recreational purposes.

§ 51-3-23.  Effect of invitation or permission to use land for recreation 

Except as specifically recognized by or provided in Code Section 51-3-25, an owner of land who either directly or indirectly invites or permits without charge any person to use the property for recreational purposes does not thereby:

(1) Extend any assurance that the premises are safe for any purpose;

(2) Confer upon such person the legal status of an invitee or licensee to whom a duty of care is owed; or

(3) Assume responsibility for or incur liability for any injury to person or property caused by an act of omission of such persons.

§ 51-3-24.  Applicability of Code Sections 51-3-22 and 51-3-23 to owner of land leased to state or subdivision for recreation 

Unless otherwise agreed in writing, Code Sections 51-3-22 and 51-3-23 shall be deemed applicable to the duties and liability of an owner of land leased to the state or any subdivision thereof for recreational purposes.

§ 51-3-25.  Certain liability not limited 

Nothing in this article limits in any way any liability which otherwise exists:

(1) For willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity; or 

(2) For injury suffered in any case when the owner of land charges the person or persons who enter or go on the land for the recreational use thereof, except that, in the case of land leased to the state or a subdivision thereof, any consideration received by the owner for the lease shall not be deemed a charge within the meaning of this Code section. 

§ 51-3-26.  Construction of article 

Nothing in this article shall be construed to: 

(1) Create a duty of care or ground of liability for injury to persons or property; or

(2) Relieve any person using the land of another for recreational purposes from any obligation which he may have in the absence of this article to exercise care in his use of the land and in his activities thereon or from the legal consequences of failure to employ such
care.
 

 


Stone Mountain Memorial Association v. Amestoy, 337 Ga. App. 467; 788 S.E.2d 110; 2016 Ga. App. LEXIS 358

Stone Mountain Memorial Association v. Amestoy, 337 Ga. App. 467; 788 S.E.2d 110; 2016 Ga. App. LEXIS 358

Stone Mountain Memorial Association v. Amestoy.

A16A0056.

COURT OF APPEALS OF GEORGIA

337 Ga. App. 467; 788 S.E.2d 110; 2016 Ga. App. LEXIS 358

June 21, 2016, Decided

HEADNOTES Georgia Advance Headnotes

(1) Torts. Real Property Torts. General Premises Liability. The wife of a bicyclist who died of a head injury after striking a barricade that had been placed across the road in a public park to protect runners in a road race failed to produce sufficient evidence to create a jury question as to the park owner’s actual knowledge that the barricades were not apparent to those using the property as required to prove an exception to immunity under OCGA § 51-3-25 (1) of the Recreational Property Act; the road was straight and open and the barricades were highly visible.

COUNSEL: Samuel S. Olens, Attorney General, Kathleen M. Pacious, Deputy Attorney General, Loretta L. Pinkston, Kirsten S. Daughdril, Senior Assistant Attorneys General, Kristine K. Hayter, Assistant Attorney General, for appellant.

Childers, Schleuter & Smith, William A. Parker, Jr., for appellee.

JUDGES: [***1] DILLARD, Judge. Phipps, P. J., and Peterson, J., concur.

OPINION BY: DILLARD

OPINION

[*467] [**111] Dillard, Judge.

Stone Mountain Memorial Association (“SMMA”) appeals from the trial court’s denial of its motion for summary judgment in a premises-liability and wrongful-death action brought by Nancy Amestoy following her husband Martin’s tragic death in a bicycling accident at Stone Mountain Park. Specifically, SMMA contends that the trial court erred in denying its motion for summary judgment because it is immune from liability under the Recreational Property Act (“RPA”).1 Because we agree with SMMA that the RPA immunizes it from liability, we reverse.

1 See OCGA § 51-3-20 et seq.; see also OCGA § 51-3-20 [HN1] (“The purpose of this article is to encourage owners of land to make land and water areas available to the public for recreational purposes by limiting the owners’ liability toward persons entering thereon for recreational purposes.”).

Viewed in the light most favorable to Nancy Amestoy (i.e., the nonmoving party),2 the record reflects that between 7:30 and 7:45 a.m. on the day in question, officers with SMMA’s public-safety department engaged in temporary traffic-control efforts on portions of Stone Mountain Park’s Robert E. Lee Boulevard in anticipation of a 5k walk/run event that [***2] was scheduled to begin at 8:00 a.m. These temporary traffic-control efforts consisted of two saw-horse style barricades placed side-by-side across the road’s southbound lanes, spanning approximately ten-feet wide with an approximately one-and-a-half foot gap between them. Both barricades bore orange and white stripes and “do not enter” signs.

2 See, e.g., Holcomb v. Long, 329 Ga. App. 515, 517 (765 SE2d 687) (2014).

The SMMA major stationed at these barricades manned the post for a few minutes after they were erected, but he left suddenly when [*468] overcome by an urgent need to use the restroom. While the major was in the restroom, the SMMA captain–who was stationed at a separate traffic-control post–saw two bicyclists maneuver around the barricades at the major’s post. Then, six or seven minutes later, Martin Amestoy was observed riding his bicycle toward the barricades at what a witness believed was a “safe, normal speed”; however, Amestoy’s head was down. Amestoy then traveled between the barricades, striking the inside corner of the lefthand barricade with his handlebar, and was thrown forward off of his bike.3 Although he was wearing a helmet, Amestoy suffered severe head trauma and died later that day.

3 Nancy Amestoy alleges that her husband may [***3] have been attempting to avoid a collision with the barricades by trying to ride between them. Officers could not speak to Martin after the collision to ascertain his version of events because he was unconscious. But Nancy’s expert opined that “once [Martin] was aware of [the barricades,] his only path of travel was between the two barricades.”

Thereafter, Nancy Amestoy filed suit against SMMA in her capacity as surviving spouse and on behalf of Martin’s estate. In doing so, she asserted that SMMA (1) was liable for Martin’s death due to its failure to warn of the allegedly dangerous condition of the barricades, (2) had actual knowledge that the barricades posed a risk of serious bodily injury or death, and (3) willfully failed to warn of the alleged danger (despite knowing of the risk posed by the barricades). SMMA responded and filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that it was immune [**112] from suit under the RPA. The trial court ultimately denied SMMA’s motion when it concluded that genuine issues of material fact remained as to whether (1) the barricades were a dangerous condition and (2) SMMA had actual knowledge that this condition was dangerous. The trial court did, however, [***4] certify the denial of SMMA’s motion for immediate review, and this Court granted SMMA’s application for interlocutory appeal. This appeal follows.

At the outset, we note that [HN2] on appeal from the denial of a motion for summary judgment, we conduct a de novo review of the record.4 [HN3] To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact, and that the undisputed facts, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, entitle the moving party to judgment as a matter of law.5 A defendant may do this by showing the trial court that the record [*469] reveals no evidence sufficient to create a jury issue on at least one essential element of the plaintiff’s case.6 Indeed, if there is no evidence sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact as to “any essential element of the plaintiff’s claim, that claim tumbles like a house of cards.”7 With these guiding principles in mind, we turn now to SMMA’s arguments on appeal.

4 See Gayle v. Frank Callen Boys & Girls Club, 322 Ga. App. 412, 412 (745 SE2d 695) (2013) (“A de novo standard of review applies to an appeal from a grant [or denial] of summary judgment[.]” (punctuation omitted)).

5 See id. [HN4] (“Summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine issue of material [***5] fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” (punctuation omitted)).

6 See Farris v. First Fin. Bank, 313 Ga. App. 460, 462 (722 SE2d 89) (2011) [HN5] (“This burden is met by a defendant when the court is shown that the documents, affidavits, depositions and other evidence in the record reveal that there is no evidence sufficient to create a jury issue on at least one essential element of the plaintiff’s case.” (punctuation omitted)).

7 La Quinta Inns, Inc. v. Leech, 289 Ga. App. 812, 812 (658 SE2d 637) (2008) (punctuation omitted).

SMMA argues that the trial court erred in denying its motion for summary judgment based upon immunity under the RPA because (1) there was no evidence that it had actual knowledge of a dangerous condition, (2) the allegedly dangerous condition was open and obvious as a matter of law, and (3) there was no evidence that it willfully failed to warn of the allegedly dangerous condition. Because the allegedly dangerous condition–i.e., the barricades blocking the southbound lanes of Robert E. Lee Boulevard–was open and obvious as a matter of law, SMMA was entitled to summary judgment.

[HN6] In enacting the RPA, the General Assembly sought to “encourage property owners to make their property available to the public for recreational purposes by limiting the owners’ liability.”8 In this regard, OCGA § 51-3-22 provides [***6] that “an owner of land owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for recreational purposes or to give any warning of a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity on the premises to persons entering for recreational purposes.”

8 Gayle, 322 Ga. App. at 413 (punctuation omitted). [HN7] The RPA applies when the property is “open to the public for recreational purposes and the owner does not charge an admission fee.” Id. at 414. It is undisputed between the parties that Stone Mountain Park is open to the public for recreational purposes and does not charge an admission fee. See OCGA § 51-3-21 (a) (” ‘Charge’ means the admission price or fee asked in return for invitation or permission to enter or go upon the land.”); see also Hogue v. Stone Mtn. Mem. Ass’n, 183 Ga. App. 378, 380 (1) (358 SE2d 852) (1987) (holding that initial motor-vehicle fee was “a permit for the use of a vehicle in the park” and that “the trial court was authorized to conclude as a matter of law that this fee did not constitute a charge for the recreational use of the parkland itself”).

[HN8] Notwithstanding the RPA’s general provision for immunity from liability, there is an exception “[f]or willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity.”9 But as we have previously held, [***7] “willful failure” involves “a conscious, knowing, voluntary, intentional failure, rather than a mere inadvertent, accidental, involuntary, inattentive, inert, or passive [*470] [**113] omission.”10 And malice requires either “an actual intent to cause the particular harm produced or the wanton and [willful] doing of the act with an awareness of the plain and strong likelihood that harm may result.”11 Thus, in order for the “willful or malicious failure” exception to apply, Nancy Amestoy must show that the property owner (SMMA) had actual knowledge that (1) the property was being used for recreational purposes;12 (2) a condition existed involving unreasonable risk of death or serious bodily harm; (3) the condition was not apparent to those using the property; and (4) having the foregoing knowledge, the property owner chose not to warn users in disregard of the possible consequences.13 Constructive knowledge is insufficient to meet this burden of proof, and the property owner has no duty to inspect the property.14 Importantly, the plaintiff must satisfy each prong of this four-part test to succeed against a recreational property owner under this exception.15

9 OCGA § 51-3-25 (1); see also Gayle, 322 Ga. App. at 415.

10 Collins v. City of Summerville, 284 Ga. App. 54, 56 (643 SE2d 305) (2007) (punctuation omitted); accord Cooley v. City of Carrollton, 249 Ga. App. 387, 388 (547 SE2d 689) (2001); Spivey v. City of Baxley, 210 Ga. App. 772, 773 (437 SE2d 623) (1993).

11 Collins, 284 Ga. App. at 56 (punctuation [***8] omitted); accord Gayle, 322 Ga. App. at 415.

12 The parties do not dispute that the first prong of this test is satisfied.

13 See Gayle, 322 Ga. App. at 415 (listing the four requirements); Collins, 284 Ga. App. at 56 (same); Spivey, 210 Ga. App. at 773 (same); Quick v. Stone Mtn. Mem. Ass’n, 204 Ga. App. 598, 599 (420 SE2d 36) (1992) (same); see also Edmondson v. Brooks Cty. Bd. of Educ., 205 Ga. App. 662, 663 (423 SE2d 413) (1992) (noting that, in the fourth prong, ” ‘[t]his knowledge’ refers to the three previously listed facts of which the owner must have actual knowledge in order to be liable for ‘choosing not to guard or warn’ ” (punctuation omitted)).

14 See Collins, 284 Ga. App. at 56 (“Constructive knowledge is not sufficient, and no duty to inspect is imposed on the property owner.”); Ga. Dep’t of Transp. v. Thompson, 270 Ga. App. 265, 269 (2) (a) (606 SE2d 323) (2004) (“This test excludes either constructive knowledge or a duty to inspect.” (punctuation omitted)).

15 See, e.g., Lee v. Dep’t of Nat’l Res., 263 Ga. App. 491, 493-94 (3) (588 SE2d 260) (2003) (holding that, despite uncontroverted satisfaction of first prong, failure to satisfy other prongs was fatal to claim); Edmondson, 205 Ga. App. at 663 (noting that, in holding that RPA immunized defendant from liability, the issue of liability under the RPA is “resolved by a four-part test” and the defendants “rel[ied] on the absence of the third prong of the test”).

At the outset, [HN9] we reject any suggestion that the four-part test does not require actual knowledge as to each prong. Although we have not always been precise in our recitation of the analytical framework,16 the notion that actual knowledge is not required by the foregoing [***9] four-part test is belied by the plain language of the test adopted by this Court in McGruder v. Georgia Power Co.,17 by our [*471] explanation and application of the test in subsequent cases,18 and even by other jurisdictions that have construed the test employed in Georgia.19 (1) And here, Nancy [**114] Amestoy failed to produce any evidence to create a jury question as to the third prong of the test–that is, that SMMA had actual knowledge that the barricades were not apparent to those using the property.20 As the trial court noted in its order, the road leading up to the barricades is straight and open. Indeed, witnesses observed two other cyclists negotiate their bicycles around the barricades only minutes before Martin Amestoy’s accident. Additionally, not only does the photographic evidence demonstrate that the barricades were highly visible, but testimony by numerous SMMA public-safety personnel established that they believed this to be the case.

16 See Gayle, 322 Ga. App. at 415; Collins, 284 Ga. App. at 56; Norton v. Cobb Cty., 284 Ga. App. 303, 307 (3) (643 SE2d 803) (2007) (physical precedent only).

17 126 Ga. App. 562, 563-64 (1) (191 SE2d 305) (1972) (“In the context of the whole statute, it would seem that a wilful failure to guard or warn would require actual knowledge of the owner that its property is being used for recreational purposes; that a condition exists involving [***10] an unreasonable risk of death or serious bodily harm; that the condition is not apparent to those using the property; and that having this knowledge, the owner chooses not to guard or warn, in disregard of the possible consequences.”), reversed on other grounds by 229 Ga. 811 (194 SE2d 440) (1972); see also Ga. Marble Co. v. Warren, 183 Ga. App. 866, 867 (1) (360 SE2d 286) (1987) (adopting the four-part test as previously set forth in McGruder v. Ga. Power Co., and noting that “[a]lthough the test was turned into dicta by the Supreme Court’s ruling that the RPA was not applicable in that case, it is sound”).

18 See Ray v. Ga. Dep’t of Nat’l Res., 296 Ga. App. 700, 702 (1) (675 SE2d 585) (2009); Lee, 263 Ga. App. at 493-94 (3); Thompson, 270 Ga. App. at 269 (2) (a); S. Gwinnett Athletic Ass’n v. Nash, 220 Ga. App. 116, 119 (1) (469 SE2d 276) (1996); Spivey, 210 Ga. App. at 773; Quick, 204 Ga. App. at 599; Edmondson, 205 Ga. App. at 663; Warren, 183 Ga. App. at 867 (1).

19 Hendrickson v. Ga. Power Co., 80 FSupp2d 1374, 1379 (III) (B) (M.D. Ga. 2000) (acknowledging that this Court uses a four-part test, and reciting test so as to make clear that defendant must have “actual knowledge” as to the first three prongs); Ex parte City of Geneva, 707 So2d 626, 629 n.2 (Ala. 1997) (construing Alabama’s recreational-use statute and observing that “the four-part ‘actual knowledge’ test of [Ala. Code] § 35-15-24 [(which applies ‘actual knowledge’ to the first three prongs of test)] appears likely to be a codification of the test employed by the state courts of Georgia when determining whether a noncommercial recreational landowner may be liable for ‘willful … failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, [***11] structure, or activity.’ “).

20 See Ray, 296 Ga. App. at 702 (2) (“The … third prong of this test was not met, because no evidence was presented that appellees had actual knowledge of a condition that was not apparent to persons using the property.”); Nash, 220 Ga. App. at 119 (1) (reversing denial of motion for summary judgment when, inter alia, “even assuming for the sake of argument that the unfinished bleachers presented a dangerous condition, there is no evidence that the [defendant] had any knowledge that this condition was not apparent to people using the property”); Edmondson, 205 Ga. App. at 663 (“[The third] prong requires plaintiffs to show that defendants actually knew that the dangerous condition of the merry-go-round was not apparent to those using the playground.”).

The testimony from SMMA personnel included that of a corporal who assisted in the investigation after the accident, and who testified that (1) the “barricades were plainly visible for quite a distance,” (2) the barricades were visible “for hundreds of feet,” (3) the sun was shining on the morning in question, and (4) there was “a great deal of visibility.” Likewise, an SMMA officer who performed an accident investigation, including taking various measurements to construct a to-scale diagram and [***12] conducting a “conspicuity test,” estimated that [*472] the barricades would have been visible from “a couple hundred yards” up Robert E. Lee Boulevard. More specifically, the major who was stationed at the barricades estimated that the distance at which they were visible would have been 200 to 250 feet, though he did acknowledge that on the morning in question, “[t]he way the sun was up, [a cyclist or motorist] would possibly [have] been looking into the sun.” Lastly, the SMMA captain calculated that the distance from the first line of sight to the barricades was one-tenth of a mile, or 528 feet, concluding that the barricades were “highly visible.” The captain also echoed other testimony that “[i]t was a clear day, the sun was out, [and] visibility was good.”

Finally, Nancy Amestoy’s expert testified that from his position and speed on a bicycle, Martin Amestoy likely would have seen the gap between the barricades when he was approximately fifteen feet away, giving him about one-half of a second to react. But when questioned about the distance from which the barricades themselves would have been visible, the expert testified that he did not “have an answer for that” and that he did not “know how far [***13] back they would have been seen,” though he opined that it would not have been “very far.” He also testified that he had no way of knowing what Martin Amestoy was doing “10, 20, [or] 50 feet prior to the barricades.”

Considering the above testimony, Nancy Amestoy presented no evidence that SMMA had actual knowledge that the barricades were not apparent to park users when they were open and obvious,21 as overwhelmingly [**115] demonstrated by the foregoing testimony and photographic evidence.22 Indeed, as previously noted, there is no evidence [*473] that SMMA officials knew that the barricades were not apparent.23 Although Nancy Amestoy claims that SMMA stationed a major at the barricades to provide warnings to approaching motorists and bicyclists and that this officer had actual knowledge of the need to provide such warnings, there is no evidence to substantiate these assertions. Instead, the major testified that the objective of his post was to “turn the cars around, bicyclists around.” Additionally, the SMMA captain testified that the purpose of the major’s post was “to block the road, to keep cars from going down into that area where the people would be crossing” and “protect the walkers,”24 not to “protect [***14] bicyclists and cars.” And when further asked if there was “any interest in protecting the bicyclists or the vehicles from entering that area,” the captain responded that “[o]ur objective is to protect everybody in the park.” But this diplomatic answer is a far cry from testimony that would create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether SMMA officials had actual knowledge that the barricades themselves were not apparent–or open and obvious–to park users.

21 Cf. Turkett v. Cent. of Ga. Ry. Co., 117 Ga. App. 617, 617 (161 SE2d 362) (1968) (holding that court erred in dismissing petition alleging negligence when plaintiff collided with warning device placed in roadway by defendant while traveling in the dark, in the rain, and under circumstances of poor visibility; and obstruction was unlighted, obscured from plaintiff’s vision by its placement, and could not be seen until within 10 feet); Rogers v. Johnson, 94 Ga. App. 666, 666 (syllabus), 677 (1), 678 (3) (96 SE2d 285) (1956) (sustaining verdict for plaintiff when decedent was traveling roadway at night in car that collided with defendant’s vehicle, which was hauling house-trailer, nearly blocking the entire roadway after making a lefthand turn); Trammell v. Matthews, 84 Ga. App. 332, 338-39 (1) (66 SE2d 183) (1951) (holding that there was a question for the jury as to negligence when plaintiff alleged, inter alia, “that had the defendant placed proper warnings at the [***15] point where the detour went around the place where the bridge was out, the driver of the car … would not have passed the detour and gone through the partial road block and then into the place where the bridge was out,” and when it appeared from the plaintiff’s petition “that the way ahead of the driver of this car was not clear, that it was yet dark, and the road was not straight as one approached this partial road block from the [s]outh; that the detour was the same color as the paved road; [and] that the partial road block was not sufficient and adequate to prevent one from assuming that the road could be used”).

22 See Metro. Atlanta Rapid Transit Auth. v. Fife, 220 Ga. App. 298, 299, 300 (1) (469 SE2d 420) (1996) (noting that photographic evidence showed that allegedly dangerous condition of drainage culvert was “plainly visible to anyone standing at the curb,” and holding that condition was open and obvious); Warren, 183 Ga. App. at 868 (1) (“Photographs of the stream illustrate that even a first time visitor to the stream would perceive that the stream’s bed was or at least was likely to be rocky. … The rocky condition of the terrain in and about the stream was open and obvious.”); see also Engleson v. Little Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, No. Civ. 101-102, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23093, 2002 WL 31689432, at *3 (3) (D. Minn. 2002) (noting, in case involving a plaintiff who tripped over an orange traffic cone, that “[t]he test for obviousness is an [***16] objective test that examines whether the danger was in fact visible, rather than whether the injured party actually saw the danger,” and concluding that not only were traffic cones obvious but that defendants “could not have anticipated harm from the cones because traffic cones are, themselves, warning markers”).

23 See Ray, 296 Ga. App. at 702 (1) (“The … third prong of this test was not met, because no evidence was presented that appellees had actual knowledge of a condition that was not apparent to persons using the property.”); Edmondson, 205 Ga. App. at 663 (“[The third] prong requires plaintiffs to show that defendants actually knew that the dangerous condition of the merry-go-round was not apparent to those using the playground.”).

24 (Emphasis supplied.)

Furthermore, even if we were to assume that Martin Amestoy could not see the barricades from his position and speed on his bicycle or due to the sun’s location at the exact moment of his accident on the morning in question, [HN10] whether a dangerous condition is open and obvious depends on the objective knowledge of a reasonable person, not on the plaintiff’s subjective knowledge.25

25 See Morris v. Clark Equip. Co., 904 FSupp. 1379, 1383 (II) (B) (M.D. Ga. 1995) (“In determining whether a danger was open and obvious to the injured party, the court should [***17] use an objective point of view, as opposed to subjective, since the user’s perceptions are irrelevant.”); see also Weatherby v. Honda Motor Co., 195 Ga. App. 169, 171 (393 SE2d 64) (1990) (“In determining, under the ‘open and obvious rule,’ whether the peril from which an injury results is latent or patent, the decision is made on the basis of an objective view … , and the subjective perceptions of the user or injured party are irrelevant.”), overruled on other grounds by Ogletree v. Navistar Intern. Transp. Corp., 269 Ga. 443, 443-44 (500 SE2d 570) (1998) (holding that “open and obvious danger” rule is not applicable in cases of alleged design defect). See generally 62A Am. Jur. 2d Premises Liability § 713 (2016) [HN11] (“Whether a condition is open and obvious, for premises liability purposes, depends on the objective knowledge of a reasonable person, not the plaintiff’s subjective knowledge. The test for what constitutes an ‘obvious’ danger is an objective test: the question is not whether the injured party actually saw the danger, but whether it was in fact visible.” (footnotes omitted)).

[*474] [**116] In light of the foregoing, we must reverse the trial court’s denial of SMMA’s motion for summary judgment.26

26 See Nash, 220 Ga. App. at 119 (1) (reversing denial of motion for summary judgment when, inter alia, “even assuming for the sake of argument that the unfinished bleachers presented a dangerous condition, there is no [***18] evidence that the [defendant] had any knowledge that this condition was not apparent to people using the property”).

Judgment reversed. Phipps, P. J., and Peterson, J., concur.


This is a hard case–hard not in the sense that it is legally difficult or tough to crack, but in the sense that it requires us to deny relief to a plaintiff for whom we have considerable sympathy.

We do what we must, for ‘it is the duty of all courts of justice to take care, for the general good of the community, that hard cases do not make bad law. 

Roy v. The State of Rhode Island et al., 139 A.3d 480; 2016 R.I. LEXIS 88

State: Rhode Island, Supreme Court of Rhode Island

Plaintiff: Dawn K. Roy, in her capacity as the administratrix of the estate of Brett A. Roy, et al.

Defendant: Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), and two individuals in their official capacities as DEM employees 

Plaintiff Claims: 

Defendant Defenses: Open and Obvious and Recreational Use Statute 

Holding: for the Defendant 

Year: 2016 

Summary

The title is a quote from another case and states perfectly the situation most judges face when looking at a case. 

In this one, a man dove into a lake at a State Park in Rhode Island. He broke his neck and became a quadriplegic. The Rhode Island Supreme Court dismissed his claims because the assumed the risk and the Rhode Island Recreational Use Statute prevented his claims. 

Facts 

The state owned the land in question and ran it as a state park. There was a man-made pond in the park that was “treated much like a swimming pool.” Because of changes to the pond, the decision was made to close the pond and now allow swimming. No swimming signs were posted, and no lifeguards were on duty. Other parks of the park were still open, including the bathhouses.

Rhode Island did not allow the operation of a body of water on a swim at your own risk basis. 

The plaintiff was a 29-year-old  husband and father of two. He went to the park with a friend. While at the park he ran and dove into the water breaking his neck and becoming a paraplegic. 

The plaintiff by and through his wife, as Administratrix of the estate of the plaintiff used the state and various agencies for his injuries. The case when to trial and the jury returned a verdict for the defendants. The plaintiff filed a motion for a new trial, which was granted and the defendant filed this appeal to the Rhode Island Supreme Court. 

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

The state based its appeal on the Rhode Island Recreational Use Statute, and the state owed no duty for an open and obvious natural condition. 

The court first looked at the Rhode Island Recreational Use Statute. The statute provided immunity to landowners and to state and municipalities. The limitation was not absolute. A landowner could be liable if the plaintiff could prove “…[f]or
the willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity after   discovering the user’s peril…
” 

The state argued nothing it did established proof of willful or malicious failure to warn. The court could not find any evidence to support the plaintiff’s claims. On top of that, the best defense was provided by the plaintiff when he admitted
he knew about the dangers of diving into shallow water, and that he had not checked the depth of the water. Finally, he admitted he was probably irresponsible. 

The court then looked at the open and obvious danger defense. Here again, the plaintiff failed.  

This Court held that the defendants had not owed any duty of care to the plaintiff in that case in part because “requiring citizens to place warnings against[–]and barriers preventing persons from[–]diving into shallow water would provide little disincentive to individuals * * *. As a practical matter, the danger of diving into shallow water is one of common knowledge, and one [the plaintiff] admit he was aware of.” 

The court concluded. 

Because it is our considered opinion that the state bore no liability for Roy’s injuries–either because diving is an open and obvious danger or because it was protected under the Recreational Use Statute–we conclude that the trial justice erroneously denied its motion for judgment as a matter of law. 

So Now What? 

To many this case might suck, sending this young man to live a life without the financial support he may need. However, as the quote in the beginning said, the law is the law. When you undertake to engage in a sport or activity, you assume
the risks of those activities. 

More importantly when recreating on land for free, the landowner owes no duty to keep you safe from yourself. If not, recreation would only be on federal lands where the chance of proving a claim is negligible. State, City and County Parks and Open Spaces would all close because they could not afford the insurance needed to keep them open.

 What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Roy v. The State of Rhode Island et al., 139 A.3d 480; 2016 R.I. LEXIS 88

Roy v. The State of Rhode Island et al., 139 A.3d 480; 2016 R.I. LEXIS 88

Dawn K. Roy, in her capacity as the administratrix of the estate of Brett A. Roy, et al.1 v. The State of Rhode Island et al.

1 The original plaintiff, Brett A. Roy, passed away while the instant appeal was pending. An order substituting “Dawn K. Roy, the  administratrix of the estate of Brett A. Roy” as a party in this case entered on April 15, 2016. See Rule 25(a) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure.

No. 2013-213-Appeal. No. 2014-39-Appeal.

SUPREME COURT OF RHODE ISLAND

139 A.3d 480; 2016 R.I. LEXIS 88

June 23, 2016, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] Providence County Superior Court. (PC 09-2874). Associate Justice Susan E. McGuirl.

Roy v. State, 2013 R.I. Super. LEXIS 54 (2013)

CASE SUMMARY:

COUNSEL: For Plaintiffs: Patrick C. Barry, Esq., Douglas E. Chabot, Esq.

For State: Rebecca T. Partington, Department of the Attorney General; Adam J. Sholes, Department of the Attorney General.

JUDGES: Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.

OPINION BY: Paul A. Suttell

OPINION

[*482] Chief Justice Suttell, for the Court. A wise jurist once wrote:

“This is a hard case–hard not in the sense that it is legally difficult or tough to crack, but in the sense that it requires us * * * to deny relief to a plaintiff for whom we have considerable sympathy. We do what we must, for ‘it is the duty of all courts of justice to take care, for the general good of the community, that hard cases do not make bad law.'” Burnham v. Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America, 873 F.2d 486, 487 (1st Cir. 1989) (Selya, J.) (quoting United States v. Clark, 96 U.S. 37, 49, 24 L. Ed. 696, 13 Ct. Cl. 560 (1877) (Harlan, J., dissenting)).

This is indeed such a hard case. Tragically, on July 10, 2008, twenty-nine-year-old Brett A. Roy broke his neck when diving into the pond at World War II Veterans Memorial Park in Woonsocket, resulting in his paralysis from the neck down. Roy’s injuries were vast and undeniable. Roy and his wife, Dawn K. Roy (plaintiffs), individually and as the parents of their two children, [**2] filed this action against the state, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), and two individuals in their official capacities as DEM employees (collectively, the state), alleging several counts of negligence and premises liability. After a multi-week trial and lengthy deliberations, a jury returned a verdict for the state, finding that the state had not “fail[ed] to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity” or against a “non-obvious, latent dangerous condition” at the pond. Subsequently, both parties filed renewed motions for judgment as a matter of law, which the trial justice denied. However, the plaintiffs also filed a motion for a new trial, which was granted. Thereafter, the state brought the instant appeal arguing that the trial justice erred in granting the plaintiffs’ motion for a new trial, and that, as a matter of law, the state owed no duty to Roy. The plaintiffs filed a cross-appeal arguing that their motion for judgment as a matter of law should have been granted and that the trial justice erred in denying their motion for additur or alternatively their motion for a new trial on damages only. For the reasons set forth herein, [**3] we vacate the judgment of the Superior Court.

I

Facts and Travel

A

World War II Veterans Memorial Park and Pond

In July 2008, the pond at World War II Veterans Memorial Park in Woonsocket [*483] was one of several bodies of water operated by the state as a recreational facility. At trial several state workers testified to the condition and maintenance of the park and pond.

The director of DEM at the time of the incident, W. Michael Sullivan, testified that the man-made pond was “filled mechanically” and “treated much like a swimming pool.” Sullivan testified that, in June 2008, he made the decision to fill the pond, and he appeared at a press conference where he announced his decision.2 Sullivan stated that, in July 2008, there were “no swimming” signs posted, but DEM “expected that there would be people * * * using the park.” Sullivan explained that facilities such as the bathhouses were open, but he stated that he “did not ever consider the beach to be open.” Sullivan agreed that it was prohibited under DEM rules to operate the pond on a “swim-at-your-own-risk” basis, and he explained that, “if there were not lifeguards present at a swimming facility, that the swimming facility was closed.” Sullivan [**4] explained that, in July 2008, staff on-site at the park had been directed “to tell people that the beach — that the water was closed to swimming, to point to signage and refer them to that, but it was not expected that they would stand there and order people out [of the water] * * *.”

2 Sullivan had explained that, in February 2008, World War II Veterans Memorial Park had been “slated for closure” in the budget presented to the Legislature that year. However, at the end of June, after local officials expressed concern, he made the decision as the Director of DEM to fill the pond.

The Associate Director of Natural Resources for DEM, Larry Mouradjian, also testified at trial. He described the pond, explaining that there was a designated lap pool, a swim area, and a diving platform. He testified that he had seen the pond with and without water, and, based on his opinion, diving near the wall into the lap pool would be dangerous because it was too shallow. Mouradjian testified that the pond was typically not filled “until such time as we were able to fully staff the * * * swim area and invite the public to swim at the pond * * *.” Mouradjian stated that he thought the decision to fill the [**5] pond was untimely “[b]ecause the things normally done to prepare the pond to be open to the public had not been done * * *.” He testified that he had spoken to Sullivan and recommended that the pond be drained or left empty until DEM “beg[a]n to acquire the resources necessary.”

The DEM Chief of the Rhode Island Division of Parks and Recreation, Robert Paquette, and the Deputy Chief, John Faltus, also testified at trial. Paquette confirmed that Mouradjian was hesitant to open the pond and that Mouradjian told him that “we should really look into this.” However, Paquette testified that “[Sullivan] was ordering [him] to open up the facility.” Paquette also testified that he had never been told that “there was ever a problem with shallow water [along the wall of the pond].” Faltus testified that he was never “officially informed” that people were diving at the pond, but he had “heard hearsay that there’s possible diving activity after hours.” Faltus stated that generally they did not “allow diving at any [state] swimming areas.” However, he also admitted that “[p]eople [were] allowed to possibly do some shallow entry dives,” explaining that whether diving was allowed “[d]epends on how you define ‘dive.'”

William Mitchell [**6] Jr., the Regional Park Manager for DEM in 2008, testified that there was no “system that was in place to warn people of the depth of the water.” However, he stated that “if a patron * * * [*484] ask[ed] an employee * * * they would advise them as to the depth of the water, [and] if they asked about diving, [they] would tell them the rules and regulations * * *.” Mitchell agreed that Roy’s injury was “[g]enerally” the type of thing that he could foresee and he was concerned that it was the kind of injury that would happen when he was told to fill the pond before lifeguards had been hired.

Peter Lambert, a DEM caretaker supervisor who was employed at World War II Veterans Memorial Park from 1990 to 2008, testified at trial extensively about the physical characteristics and operation of the park and pond. He explained that, as the caretaker supervisor, he was the “acting park manager,” testifying that he “handled pretty much everything that had to do with the park itself: scheduling the staff, supervising the lifeguards, interviewing park rangers, interviewing seasonal people, assigning various work to people.” Essentially he either directly worked on or helped supervise everything that needed to be done at the [**7] park.

Lambert described the park as “16 acres * * * in the center of * * * Woonsocket [with] a man made [sic] pond, * * * two tennis courts, a playground area, horseshoe pits, * * * [an] Olympic pool area, * * * and the beach area * * *.” Lambert described the water depth near the wall where the Olympic pool met the beach area as being “pretty consistent over the years.” He testified that, when the pond was drained, he would try to “smooth the bottom” of it. Lambert explained that the pond “wouldn’t be perfectly level like a pool,” but testified that he “would try to eliminate any erosion, any heels, any high spots.” He testified that he was unable to do “any preparatory work to the bottom” of the pond in 2008 because he had been “informed that the park was closing and the beach wouldn’t be opened that year, and [his] job was being eliminated.” However, Lambert also explained that he did not rake the pond every year because “there were years when there was very little shifting on the bottom.” Subsequently, Lambert testified about the diving policies at the pond. He stated that diving had “never [been] allowed.” However, he admitted to seeing “people periodically dive * * * off of [the] [**8] wall on the pool area, [but] not during hours that [the pond was] in operation.”

B

The Events of July 10, 2008

Kenneth Henderson, a seasonal laborer for DEM who worked as a groundskeeper at the park in 2008, testified at trial that he was working on July 10, 2008. Henderson stated that he saw “about half a dozen” people swimming in the pond that day but did not tell them that swimming was prohibited because, in his words, “[he] had no authority.”

Laura Oliver and Carol Gear had also been at the park on July 10, 2008, and testified at trial. Oliver testified that on July 10 there were no lifeguards, lifeguard chairs, or buoy lines in the pond, and the fountain was off. Oliver said that she allowed her children to go swimming despite the “no swimming” signs “because there [had been] a write-up in the paper, and nobody told [them] different[ly].” She added that there were often “no swimming” signs in place, even when lifeguards were present and watching the swimmers. However, Oliver testified that a DEM employee, who she later learned was a groundskeeper, had told her children not to jump in the water. Oliver explained that she saw people jumping and “do[ing] all kinds of stuff” off the diving platform on July [**9] 10. However, she knew from experience that diving was not allowed in the pond because in previous years if someone [*485] dove into the water, then “lifeguards would be on top of it. If they kept doing it, [the lifeguards] would tell them they had to leave.” She added that she never saw anyone get hurt while diving prior to July 10. Oliver described Roy’s dive as “a belly flop kind of dive; not a complete dive.”

Gear testified that she had been to the pond to swim “[t]hree times” before July 10, 2008, and had seen people dive, but had never seen anyone injured from diving before Roy suffered his injury. Gear described Roy’s actions that she witnessed on July 10, stating: “He threw something on the ground, and [ran], like you run when you bowl, and then he just dove in.” She labeled Roy’s dive as a “[r]egular kind of dive.” She clarified that she would call it “a shallow dive.” She explained that “[i]t was more like he * * * just * * * put his head down and kind of went in. It wasn’t like a real dive like on a diving board.”

Hope Braybon, who accompanied Roy to the pond on July 10, also testified to the events of the day. Braybon stated that she watched Roy “jog” from the car in the parking lot and “d[i]ve in.” She testified [**10] that, as Roy was diving, she “was telling him not to dive over there * * * because it was shallow water.”

Roy was unable to testify at trial but his deposition was read into the record. Roy was six feet tall and twenty-nine years old at the time of the incident. Roy testified that on July 10 he had dropped Braybon, her daughter, and his children at the park and “they * * * walked towards the beach.” He recalled seeing “20 to 30 people, small children, adults, adolescent children in the middle of the pond” swimming, which indicated to him that the park was open. He testified that he “never saw a sign that said ‘[n]o [s]wimming.'” Roy further testified that, when he arrived at the park, he “walked over towards the corner [of the pond], * * * [a]nd * * * wasn’t going to jump in,” but, he described the day as “hot, * * * very hot. So, [he] figured * * * [he would] jump in.” He stated that he looked at the water and “[i]t looked deep enough.” He described the water as “murky” and said that he “definitely couldn’t see the bottom.” He explained that “if the water was too shallow, [he would] be able to see it.” Before jumping in, Roy returned to his car to put his things away and then he “walked down to the end[,] [**11] * * * dove in the water[,] and [he] broke [his] neck.” Roy described his dive as a “shallow dive, just like a normal, flat dive,” meaning, “the only parts that [he] would want to hit the water would be the * * * tops of [his] hand and [his] belly.” Roy testified that around July 2007 he dove in the same spot, and “[n]othing was ever said to [him].” Roy admitted that he knew there was soil erosion in the pond, and, consequently, that soil had been added to the pond in the past. Roy stated that “the way that [he] check[ed] the depth of the water * * * was probably irresponsible * * *.”

C

The Jury Verdict and Posttrial Motions

After the close of evidence, both parties filed motions for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50 of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure, and the trial justice denied both motions. Subsequently, the jury was charged on May 25, 2011. During the course of deliberations, the jury exchanged over fifty notes with the trial justice. On the morning of the third day of deliberations, the trial justice addressed the jury and asked the jurors to keep deliberating because she was “really confident that the eight [jurors were] going to be able to * * * reach a decision that is fair and just for everyone.”

[*486] On the fourth day of deliberations, [**12] the jury asked the court to “clarify if [six] jurors are for one party and [two] jurors are for another[,] [d]o the questions have to be answered in favor of the way the six jurors feel and the [other two jurors would] not be able to express their own feelings[?]” The trial justice responded that she was “not exactly sure what [they] [were] asking but the jury’s verdict must be unanimous with all [eight] [jurors] agreeing.” Later that day, the trial justice held a chambers conference at which she suggested to counsel that, in light of the jury’s note, the jury might be split six to two.

During the fifth day of deliberations, the jury asked the trial justice to reinstruct them that they needed to follow the instructions of law and not their emotions. After a series of conferences with juror No. 109 and the jury foreperson, individually, the trial justice excused juror No. 109. At approximately 3:50 p.m. that day, the jury sent a note to the trial justice that it could not come to a unanimous agreement. Approximately ten minutes later the trial justice responded: “Is there anything we can do to assist you?” The jury responded that “nothing else will make a difference” and indicated a six-to-one [**13] split. Thereafter, the trial justice released the jurors for the day and asked counsel to think of options and to determine from their respective clients whether they would accept a split verdict.

The following day–day six of deliberations–both parties agreed to accept a six-to-one split decision if the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. The parties expressed that they “understood at the time that the jury would be sent to deliberate” and that if the jury “inform[ed] the [c]ourt that it could not reach a unanimous verdict, [the trial justice] would then disclose [to the jury] that the parties [had] agreed to accept a [six] to [one] split decision * * *.” Subsequently, the jury exchanged additional notes with the trial justice and returned for additional instructions on the Recreational Use Statute and the issue of liability, included as questions 1 and 2 on the verdict form. Thereafter, the jury indicated that it had reached a verdict.

The jury reached a unanimous verdict and found that the state had not “willfully or maliciously failed to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity at the pond * * *” and therefore was not liable under question 1. However, the jury [**14] found that the state was liable under question 2 for “willfully or maliciously fail[ing] to guard against a non-obvious, latent dangerous condition, knowing that there existed a strong likelihood that a user of the swimming pond would suffer serious injury or death[.]” The jury rejected the assumption-of-the-risk defense and found that both parties were negligent and assigned a 50/50 split with “zero” damages. The trial justice then called counsel to sidebar where plaintiffs argued that the jurors were not following the instructions because they found in favor of them but awarded no damages; the state disagreed. The trial justice instructed the jury that they were required to award damages. At that time, the state moved for a mistrial “based on the inconsistencies of the answers to the questions on the verdict sheet”; plaintiffs objected, and the trial justice denied the motion. The jury then sent a note explaining that they had “reached a unanimous verdict [because] no money was awarded.” They explained that if they had to award damages, “part of [the] jury [would] have one answer [and] part [would] have another. In other words, [they would] have to begin again.” The trial justice clarified [**15] with the jury that they were “referring to the [six-to-one] split/vote” and then released the jury for the day.

[*487] After the jury was sent home, the trial justice held a chambers conference with counsel. The parties discussed four potential options to consider: (1) a mistrial; (2) accept a six-to-one verdict; (3) accept half of the verdict; or (4) allow the verdict to stand. On the seventh day of deliberations, plaintiffs made a motion for additur or, in the alternative, for a new trial on the issue of damages. The trial justice denied plaintiffs’ motion and offered the parties a choice of accepting a split verdict or a mistrial. Both parties agreed to accept a six-to-one split verdict. The trial justice notified the jury that the parties would accept a six-to-one verdict. The jury returned the verdict and answered “no” to questions 1 and 2–finding no liability on behalf of the state, and judgment entered.

Following the jury verdict, both parties made renewed motions for judgment as a matter of law. In support of its motion, the state argued that plaintiffs failed to establish the state’s liability under the Recreational Use Statute and that, as a matter of law, Roy’s conduct was so “highly [**16] dangerous” that “no duty was owed to him.” The plaintiffs argued that the state’s witnesses admitted sufficient facts at trial to establish the state’s liability as a matter of law under the Recreational Use Statute. Additionally, plaintiffs moved for a new trial on damages, or, in the alternative, a new trial on all the issues. The trial justice issued a written decision on March 26, 2013, denying both parties’ motions for judgment as a matter of law, and granting plaintiffs’ motion for a new trial on all the issues. The state timely appealed this decision, and plaintiffs filed a cross-appeal.

II

Parties’ Arguments on Appeal

On appeal, the state argues that the trial justice erred in refusing to apply the decisions in Banks v. Bowen’s Landing Corp., 522 A.2d 1222 (R.I. 1987) and Bucki v. Hawkins, 914 A.2d 491 (R.I. 2007), which, the state contends, “stand for the proposition that the [s]tate owed no duty to Roy to protect him from an open and obvious natural condition * * *.” The state maintains that, “under the proper application of the Recreational Use Statute, the evidence fails to establish that the state willfully and/or maliciously failed to warn against a dangerous condition.” The state also argues that “Roy assumed the risk of injury by diving into murky water without first checking [**17] its depth” and that plaintiffs failed to prove the element of causation. Furthermore, the state contends that it is shielded from liability under the theory of discretionary immunity. The state also asserts that “the trial justice misconstrued material evidence and committed significant errors of law in granting plaintiffs’ motion for a new trial.” However, the state adds, if the matter is remanded for a new trial, “the statutory cap on damages should apply.”

In response, plaintiffs argue that the trial justice properly granted their motion for a new trial. The plaintiffs aver that they proved liability under the Recreational Use Statute and that the “open and obvious danger” rule articulated in Bucki, 914 A.2d at 496, is inapplicable here due to distinguishable facts. The plaintiffs maintain that Roy could not have “assumed the risk” under these facts as a matter of law and that plaintiffs proved proximate causation. Furthermore, plaintiffs contend that the trial justice and two motion justices properly applied the law and limited the state’s defenses with respect to governmental immunity and the damages cap. On cross-appeal, plaintiffs argue that the trial justice incorrectly denied their motions for additur, [**18] a new trial on the issue [*488] of damages only, and judgment as a matter of law. Additionally, plaintiffs argue that a new trial was warranted based on other legal errors made by the trial justice and that the second jury verdict was “the result of bias, prejudice, or passion.”

Because we conclude that the state owed no duty to Roy, we shall address only the state’s renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law.

III

Judgment as a Matter of Law

A

Standard of Review

[HN1] “In reviewing a trial justice’s decision on a motion for judgment as a matter of law, this Court is bound to follow the same rules and legal standards as govern the trial justice.” Hough v. McKiernan, 108 A.3d 1030, 1035 (R.I. 2015) (quoting Perry v. Alessi, 890 A.2d 463, 467 (R.I. 2006)). “The trial justice, and consequently this Court, must examine ‘the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, without weighing the evidence or evaluating the credibility of witnesses, and draw[] from the record all reasonable inferences that support the position of the nonmoving party.'” Id. (quoting Perry, 890 A.2d at 467). Thus, a trial justice should enter judgment as a matter of law “when the evidence permits only one legitimate conclusion in regard to the outcome.” Id. (quoting Long v. Atlantic PBS, Inc., 681 A.2d 249, 252 (R.I. 1996)).

B

Discussion

[HN2] The Rhode Island Recreational Use Statute, G.L. 1956 [**19] chapter 6 of title 32, limits the liability of landowners, declaring that one

“who either directly or indirectly invites or permits without charge any person to use that property for recreational purposes does not thereby:

“(1) Extend any assurance that the premises are safe for any purpose;

“(2) Confer upon that person the legal status of an invitee or licensee to whom a duty of care is owed; nor

“(3) Assume responsibility for or incur liability for any injury to any person or property caused by an act of omission of that person.” Section 32-6-3.

[HN3] The purpose of this statute “is to encourage owners of land to make land and water areas available to the public for recreational purposes by limiting their liability to persons entering thereon for those purposes.” Section 32-6-1. In order to achieve this, “the [Recreational Use Statute] modifies the common law by treating users of public and private recreational properties as trespassers, thus greatly reducing the duty of care that owners owe to recreational users.” Symonds v. City of Pawtucket, 126 A.3d 421, 424 (R.I. 2015). As we have noted, “it is clear from the unambiguous language of the 1996 amendment [to the Recreational Use Statute] that the [L]egislature intended to include the state and municipalities among owners entitled to immunity [**20] under the statute.” Id. (quoting Pereira v. Fitzgerald, 21 A.3d 369, 373 (R.I. 2011)).3

3 In 1996, the General Assembly amended the definition of “owner” in G.L. 1956 § 32-6-2(3) to include the state and municipalities. P.L. 1996, ch. 234, § 1.

[HN4] Although the Recreational Use Statute limits liability, this limitation is not absolute. Section 32-6-5 provides, in relevant part: “(a) Nothing in this chapter limits in any way any liability which, but for this chapter, otherwise exists: (1) [f]or the willful or malicious failure to guard or [*489] warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity after discovering the user’s peril * * *.” “Thus, the Legislature declared that all people who use this state’s public recreational resources are classified as trespassers to whom no duty of care is owed, save to refrain from willful or malicious conduct as defined in the [Recreational Use Statute].” Berman v. Sitrin, 991 A.2d 1038, 1044 (R.I. 2010).

On appeal, the state argues that the evidence presented at trial did not establish that the state willfully and/or maliciously failed to warn against a dangerous condition. Specifically, the state argues that “there was no evidence of a substantial number of injuries flowing from a known dangerous condition”; that “the state did not fail to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, [**21] structure, or activity”; and that “no witness made testimonial admissions sufficient to extinguish protection under the Recreational Use Statute.” Conversely, plaintiffs argue that they proved liability under the Recreational Use Statute because the evidence supported a finding that the state “breached the duty to refrain from willful and malicious failures to guard and warn against known latent conditions.” In support of this argument, plaintiffs rely on Berman.

In Berman, 991 A.2d at 1042, the plaintiff was walking on the Newport Cliff Walk when the ground “gave way,” causing the plaintiff to suffer injuries that rendered him a quadriplegic. This Court specifically noted that this was “not * * * a case in which a visitor came too close to the edge of a cliff and fell off, as tragic as that would be.” Id. at 1049. Rather, “the events leading to [the plaintiff’s] tragic injury were caused by latent defects in the structure of the Cliff Walk that [were] not obvious to the occasional visitor.” Id. This Court explained that “the record before [it was] replete with evidence demonstrating that * * * the city knew that the forces of natural erosion were taking a toll on the Cliff Walk.” Id. at 1050. Thus, this Court concluded that “because [**22] of the multiple incidents of death and grievous injury * * * the city [could] not successfully defend [the plaintiff’s] claim based on an assertion that it had no specific knowledge of [the plaintiff] or any peril confronting him.” Id. at 1051. Consequently, this Court held that “the immunity provided by the [Recreational Use Statute] [was] not available to defendant City of Newport, in the context of the Cliff Walk” because a “fact-finder reasonably could find that * * * the city voluntarily and intentionally failed to guard against the dangerous condition, knowing that there existed a strong likelihood that a visitor to the Cliff Walk would suffer serious injury or death.” Id. at 1052, 1053.

The plaintiffs argue that this case is comparable to Berman because the “record is replete with evidence of DEM’s admitted knowledge of numerous unique dangerous conditions, including shallow water in areas where users had been known to dive from the park’s structures, and the historic presence of the sandbar in the same (normally deeper) area.” The plaintiffs maintain that the “shallow water and dangers of diving at this particular facility were not obvious to users * * * yet were in fact known to DEM.”

In the case at bar, [**23] although the state admitted knowledge of the unique features of the pond, Roy also admitted that he was aware of the danger of making a dive into shallow water and that “the way that [he] check[ed] the depth of the water * * * was probably irresponsible * * *.” He confirmed that he knew the soil in the pond was eroding and, consequently, that soil was added to the pond. We would note that, examining the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs as we [*490] must, the actions of the defendants are a far cry from the egregious conduct attributed to the City of Newport in Berman. There, we held that “[i]t is because of the multiple incidents of death and grievous injury that we conclude that the city may not successfully defend this claim based on an assertion that it had no specific knowledge of [the plaintiff] or any peril confronting him.” Berman, 991 A.2d at 1051. Here, there is only one indication in the record of a relatively minor injury reported several days before Roy’s catastrophic injuries. Therefore, we are of the opinion that, under these circumstances, this case is distinguishable from Berman. There is no evidence to support a finding that the state “willful[ly] or malicious[ly] fail[ed] to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, [**24] use, structure, or activity after discovering [a] user’s peril * * *.” See § 32-6-5(a)(1). Thus, the state’s motion for judgment as a matter of law should have been granted.

Moreover, even if the Recreational Use Statute did not apply, this Court has held that [HN5] the danger of diving in and of itself is an “open and obvious” danger, Bucki, 914 A.2d at 496, one of “common knowledge,” Banks, 522 A.2d at 1225, such that a landowner does not owe a duty of care to warn individuals who enter the premises. In Banks, 522 A.2d at 1224, the plaintiff filed a negligence claim for injuries he suffered after diving off a railing on the defendant’s property into the Newport Harbor. This Court held that the defendants had not owed any duty of care to the plaintiff in that case in part because “requiring citizens to place warnings against[–]and barriers preventing persons from[–]diving into shallow water would provide little disincentive to individuals * * *. As a practical matter, the danger of diving into shallow water is one of common knowledge, and one [the plaintiff] admit he was aware of.” Id. at 1225. Similarly, in Bucki, 914 A.2d at 493, the plaintiff filed a negligence claim for injuries he sustained after diving into a lake while he was a guest at one defendant’s waterfront property. This Court concluded that [**25] the plaintiff’s harm was foreseeable but again held that the defendants did not have a duty to warn of the dangers of diving. Id. at 496-97. This Court stated that:

“It is only reasonable for a diver, who cannot ascertain the water’s depth by looking, to further inspect the area before diving into dark water. The danger of diving into shallow water was open and obvious to a twenty-four-year-old man, regardless of whether a sign was erected alerting him to the danger.” Id. at 496.

Thus, this Court held that “as a matter of law, [the] plaintiff must be held to have had knowledge and an appreciation of this risk [because][,] [u]ltimately, it was [the] plaintiff’s own behavior that caused his injuries.” Id.

We also note that other courts have reached similar conclusions. For example, the Maryland Court of Appeals commented that:

“Bodies of water like the stream involved in this case have historically and consistently been afforded distinctive treatment in the law relating to landowners’ liability. The necessity, or at least desirability, of maintaining such bodies of water, coupled with known inherent dangers and the difficulty of effectively protecting against those dangers, have led courts across the country to pronounce [**26] water an ‘open and obvious danger,’ for which no warning or special precaution is ordinarily needed.” Casper v. Charles F. Smith & Son, Inc., 316 Md. 573, 560 A.2d 1130, 1134-35 (Md. 1989).

[*491] In a case affirming the grant of summary judgment in favor of the Chicago Park District against swimmers who were injured when they dove into Lake Michigan from concrete seawalls, Bucheleres v. Chicago Park District, 171 Ill. 2d 435, 665 N.E.2d 826, 827, 828, 839, 216 Ill. Dec. 568 (Ill. 1996), the Illinois Supreme Court pronounced:

“In cases involving obvious and common conditions, such as fire, height, and bodies of water, the law generally assumes that persons who encounter these conditions will take care to avoid any danger inherent in such condition. The open and obvious nature of the condition itself gives caution and therefore the risk of harm is considered slight; people are expected to appreciate and avoid obvious risks.” Id. at 832.

The Illinois Supreme Court further reasoned that “bodies of water are ordinarily considered to be open and obvious conditions and thereby carry their own warning of possible danger.” Id. at 835. This is clearly the position adopted by this Court in Bucki, 914 A.2d at 497, where this Court stated that “[w]e are of the opinion that in this case [the] defendant did not owe [the] plaintiff a duty of care, but, rather, that [the] plaintiff voluntarily exposed himself to the perils of an open and obvious danger.” [**27] Because it is our considered opinion that the state bore no liability for Roy’s injuries–either because diving is an open and obvious danger or because it was protected under the Recreational Use Statute–we conclude that the trial justice erroneously denied its motion for judgment as a matter of law.

IV

Conclusion

For the reasons stated herein, we vacate the judgment of the Superior Court and remand the case with instructions to enter judgment in favor of the state. The record shall be returned to the Superior Court.


Rhode Island Recreational Use Statute

 General Laws of Rhode Island

 TITLE 32.  PARKS AND RECREATIONAL AREAS

 CHAPTER 6.  PUBLIC USE OF PRIVATE LANDS — LIABILITY
LIMITATIONS

 R.I. Gen. Laws § 32-6-1  (2017)

 

§ 32-6-1. Purpose of chapter

§ 32-6-2. Definitions

§ 32-6-3. Liability of landowner

§ 32-6-4. Land leased to state

§ 32-6-5. Limitation on chapter

§ 32-6-6. Construction of chapter

§  32-6-1. Purpose of chapter

The purpose of this chapter is to encourage owners of land to make land and water areas available to the public for recreational purposes by limiting their liability to persons entering thereon for those purposes.

§ 32-6-2. Definitions 

As used in this chapter:

(1) “Charge” means the admission price or fee asked in return for invitation or permission to enter or go upon the land;

(2) “Land” means land, roads, water, watercourses, private ways and buildings, structures, and machinery or equipment when attached to the realty;

(3) “Owner” means the private-owner possessor of a fee interest, or tenant, lessee, occupant, or person in control of the premises, including the state and municipalities;

(4) “Recreational purposes” includes, but is not limited to, any of the following, or any combination thereof: hunting, fishing, swimming, boating, camping, picnicking, hiking, horseback riding, bicycling, pleasure driving, nature study, water skiing, water sports, viewing or enjoying historical, archaeological, scenic, or scientific sites, and all other recreational purposes contemplated by this chapter; and

(5) “User” means any person using land for recreational purposes. 

§ 32-6-3. Liability of landowner 

Except as specifically recognized by or provided in § 32-6-5, an owner of land who either directly or indirectly invites or permits without charge any person to use that property for recreational purposes does not thereby: 

(1) Extend any assurance that the premises are safe for any purpose; 

(2) Confer upon that person the legal status of an invitee or licensee to whom a duty of care is owed; nor

(3) Assume responsibility for or incur liability for any injury to any person or property caused by an act of omission of that person.

§ 32-6-4. Land leased to state 

Unless otherwise agreed in writing, the provisions of § 32-6-3 and this section shall be deemed applicable to the duties and liability of an owner of land leased to the state or any subdivision or agency thereof or land that the state or any subdivision or agency thereof possesses an easement for recreational purposes.

§ 32-6-5. Limitation on chapter 

(a) Nothing in this chapter limits in any way any liability that, but for this chapter, otherwise exists: 

(1) For the willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity after discovering the user’s peril; or

(2) For any injury suffered in any case where the owner of land charges the person or persons who enter or go on the land for the recreational use thereof, except that in the case of land leased to the state or a subdivision thereof, any consideration received by the owner for that lease shall not be deemed a “charge” within the meaning of this section.

(b) When the coastal resources management council designates a right-of-way as part of its designation process as specified in § 46-23-6(5), or when the coastal resources management council stipulates public access as a condition of granting a permit, the landowner automatically will have “limited liability” as defined in this chapter, except as specifically recognized by or provided in this section.

 § 32-6-6. Construction of chapter 

Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to: 

(1) Create a duty of care or ground of liability for an injury to persons or property; 

(2) Relieve any person using the land of another for recreational purposes from any obligation that he or she may have in the absence of this chapter to exercise care in his or her use of that land and in his or her activities thereon, or from the legal consequences of the failure to employ that care; or

(3) Create a public or prescriptive right or easement running with the land.

 

 


Oregon Governor signs bill amending the Oregon Recreational Sue statute providing protection for volunteers and agents of the landowner for liability on land

The Oregon Supreme Court has interpreted the Oregon Recreational Use Statute to only apply to the landowner, not anyone else on the land. See Oregon Supreme Court decision says protection afforded by the OR Recreational Use Statute only applies to landowner, not volunteers or others on the land.

This decision will allow Boy Scouts, IMBA volunteers and others to go back onto the land and provide services to landowners and the public to make the land better for recreation.

The bill was written so it went into effect upon signing so the protection of the act was effective June 23, 2017. The issue still remains about the gap in protection from the decision of the Oregon Supreme Court on November 13, 2015 till June 23, 2017. Injured possible plaintiffs will be checking dates….

Bold sections in the Act below are the amended language.

 

79th OREGON LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY–2017 Regular Session

Enrolled

Senate Bill 327

Printed pursuant to Senate Interim Rule 213.28 by order of the President of the Senate in conformance with presession filing rules, indicating neither advocacy nor opposition on the part of the President (at the request of Senate Interim Committee on Business and Transportation)

CHAPTER ………………………………………….

AN ACT

Relating to recreational immunity from claims of persons entering land for certain purposes; amending ORS 105.672; and declaring an emergency.

Be It Enacted by the People of the State of Oregon:

SECTION 1. ORS 105.672 is amended to read:

105.672. 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:

(a) The possessor of any interest in any land, [such as] including but not limited to the holder of [a fee] any legal or equitable 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;

(b) An officer, employee, volunteer or agent of a person described in paragraph (a) of this subsection, while acting within the scope of assigned duties; and

(c) A director, partner, general partner, shareholder, limited liability company member, limited liability partner or limited partner of a person described in paragraph (a) of this subsection.

(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.

Enrolled Senate Bill 327 (SB 327-A) Page 1

SECTION 2. This 2017 Act being necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health and safety, an emergency is declared to exist, and this 2017 Act takes effect on its passage.

Do Something: Thank the Governor and the legislature for the quick actions

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

Oregon just passed a new law to hopefully supersede the ruling in this decision. Only time will tell.

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.

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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.

 


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.


Wisconsin Recreational Use Statute

Wisconsin Recreational Use Statute

Chapter 895.  Damages, Liability, and Miscellaneous Provisions Regarding Actions in Courts 

Subchapter II Exemptions From, and Limitations On, Liability

Go to the Wisconsin Code Archive Directory

Wis. Stat. § 895.52  (2016)

895.52.  Recreational activities; limitation of property owners’ liability.

(1) DEFINITIONS.

In this section:

            (ag) “Agricultural tourism activity” means an educational or recreational activity that takes place on a farm, ranch, grove, or other place where agricultural, horticultural, or silvicultural crops are grown or farm animals or farmed fish are raised, and that allows visitors to tour, explore, observe, learn about, participate in, or be entertained by an aspect of agricultural production, harvesting, or husbandry that occurs on the farm, ranch, grove, or other place.

            (ar) “Governmental body” means any of the following:

            1. The federal government.

            2. This state.

            3. A county or municipal governing body, agency, board, commission, committee, council, department, district or any other public body corporate and politic created by constitution, statute, ordinance, rule or order.

            4. A governmental or quasi-governmental corporation.

            5. A formally constituted subunit or an agency of subd. 1., 2., 3. or 4.

            (b) “Injury” means an injury to a person or to property.

            (c) “Nonprofit organization” means an organization or association not organized or conducted for pecuniary profit.

            (d) “Owner” means either of the following:

            1. A person, including a governmental body or nonprofit organization, that owns, leases or occupies property.

            2. A governmental body or nonprofit organization that has a recreational agreement with another owner.

            (e) “Private property owner” means any owner other than a governmental body or nonprofit organization.

            (f) “Property” means real property and buildings, structures and improvements thereon, and the waters of the state, as defined under s. 281.01 (18).

            (g) “Recreational activity” means any outdoor activity undertaken for the purpose of exercise, relaxation or pleasure, including practice or instruction in any such activity. “Recreational activity” includes hunting, fishing, trapping, camping, picnicking, exploring caves, nature study, bicycling, horseback riding, bird-watching, motorcycling, operating an all-terrain vehicle or utility terrain vehicle, operating a vehicle, as defined in s. 340.01 (74), on a road designated under s. 23.115, recreational aviation, ballooning, hang gliding, hiking, tobogganing, sledding, sleigh riding, snowmobiling, skiing, skating, water sports, sight-seeing, rock-climbing, cutting or removing wood, climbing observation towers, animal training, harvesting the products of nature, participating in an agricultural tourism activity, sport shooting and any other outdoor sport, game or educational activity. “Recreational activity” does not include any organized team sport activity sponsored by the owner of the property on which the activity takes place.

            (h) “Recreational agreement” means a written authorization granted by an owner to a governmental body or nonprofit organization permitting public access to all or a specified part of the owners property for any recreational activity.

            (hm) “Recreational aviation” means the use of an aircraft, other than to provide transportation to persons or property for compensation or hire, upon privately owned land. For purposes of this definition, “privately owned land” does not include a public-use airport, as defined in s. 114.002 (18m).

            (i) “Residential property” means a building or structure designed for and used as a private dwelling accommodation or private living quarters, and the land surrounding the building or structure within a 300-foot radius.

(2) NO DUTY; IMMUNITY FROM LIABILITY.

            (a) Except as provided in subs. (3) to (6), no owner and no officer, employee or agent of an owner owes to any person who enters the owners property to engage in a recreational activity:

            1. A duty to keep the property safe for recreational activities.

            2. A duty to inspect the property, except as provided under s. 23.115 (2).

            3. A duty to give warning of an unsafe condition, use or activity on the property.

            (b) Except as provided in subs. (3) to (6), no owner and no officer, employee or agent of an owner is liable for the death of, any injury to, or any death or injury caused by, a person engaging in a recreational activity on the owners property or for any death or injury resulting from an attack by a wild animal.

(3) LIABILITY; STATE PROPERTY.

            Subsection (2) does not limit the liability of an officer, employee or agent of this state or of any of its agencies for either of the following:

            (a) A death or injury that occurs on property of which this state or any of its agencies is the owner at any event for which the owner charges an admission fee for spectators.

            (b) A death or injury caused by a malicious act or by a malicious failure to warn against an unsafe condition of which an officer, employee or agent knew, which occurs on property designated by the department of natural resources under s. 23.115 or designated by another state agency for a recreational activity.

(4) LIABILITY; PROPERTY OF GOVERNMENTAL BODIES OTHER THAN THIS STATE.

            Subsection (2) does not limit the liability of a governmental body other than this state or any of its agencies or of an officer, employee or agent of such a governmental body for either of the following:

            (a) A death or injury that occurs on property of which a governmental body is the owner at any event for which the owner charges an admission fee for spectators.

            (b) A death or injury caused by a malicious act or by a malicious failure to warn against an unsafe condition of which an officer, employee or agent of a governmental body knew, which occurs on property designated by the governmental body for recreational activities.

(5) LIABILITY; PROPERTY OF NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS.

            Subsection (2) does not limit the liability of a nonprofit organization or any of its officers, employees or agents for a death or injury caused by a malicious act or a malicious failure to warn against an unsafe condition of which an officer, employee or agent of the nonprofit organization knew, which occurs on property of which the nonprofit organization is the owner.

(6) LIABILITY; PRIVATE PROPERTY.

            Subsection (2) does not limit the liability of a private property owner or of an employee or agent of a private property owner whose property is used for a recreational activity if any of the following conditions exist:

            (a) The private property owner collects money, goods or services in payment for the use of the owners property for the recreational activity during which the death or injury occurs, and the aggregate value of all payments received by the owner for the use of the owners property for recreational activities during the year in which the death or injury occurs exceeds 2,000. The following do not constitute payment to a private property owner for the use of his or her property for a recreational activity:

            1. A gift of wild animals or any other product resulting from the recreational activity.

            2. An indirect nonpecuniary benefit to the private property owner or to the property that results from the recreational activity.

            3. A donation of money, goods or services made for the management and conservation of the resources on the property.

            4. A payment of not more than 5 per person per day for permission to gather any product of nature on an owners property.

            5. A payment received from a governmental body.

            6. A payment received from a nonprofit organization for a recreational agreement.

            7. A payment made to purchase products or goods offered for sale on the property.

            (b) The death or injury is caused by the malicious failure of the private property owner or an employee or agent of the private property owner to warn against an unsafe condition on the property, of which the private property owner knew.

            (c) The death or injury is caused by a malicious act of the private property owner or of an employee or agent of a private property owner.

            (d) The death or injury occurs on property owned by a private property owner to a social guest who has been expressly and individually invited by the private property owner for the specific occasion during which the death or injury occurs, if the death or injury occurs on any of the following:

            1. Platted land.

            2. Residential property.

            3. Property within 300 feet of a building or structure on land that is classified as commercial or manufacturing under s. 70.32 (2) (a) 2. or 3.

            (e) The death or injury is sustained by an employee of a private property owner acting within the scope of his or her duties.

(7) NO DUTY OR LIABILITY CREATED.

Except as expressly provided in this section, nothing in this section, s. 101.11, or s. 895.529 nor the common law attractive nuisance doctrine creates any duty of care or ground of liability toward any person who uses anothers property for a recreational activity.


Oregon Recreational Use Statute used by US Forest Service to stop claim by injured snowmobiler

Case does an excellent job of explaining the requirements that must be met to support a motion to dismiss.

Stringer v. United States Department of Agriculture, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 150168

State: Oregon, United States District Court for the District of Oregon

Plaintiff: Daniel T. Stringer

Defendant: US Forest Service, United States Department of Agriculture,

Plaintiff Claims:

Defendant Defenses: Recreational Use Statute

Holding: For the Defendant

Year: 2014

The plaintiff was with a group of people who rented snowmobiles and then drove them to the Deschutes National Forest. The plaintiff started to go snowmobiling with a group. On their way there the plaintiff took off across a field that was not with the other members of the group.

The plaintiff’s snowmobile went over a 15’ embankment where he suffered injuries.

The plaintiff sued the defendant US Forest Service for his injuries. This is the motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint because of the Oregon Recreational Use Statute.

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

The court started by explaining in detail the steps necessary to dismiss a complaint on a Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss.

To begin with a “complaint must contain sufficient factual matter that “state[s] a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” A claim is plausible when “the factual allegations allow the court to infer the defendant’s liability based on the alleged conduct.” The factual allegations must present more than the “the mere possibility of misconduct.”

While considering a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all allegations of material fact as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the non-movant. However, the Court is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” If the complaint is dismissed, leave to amend should be granted unless the court “determines that the pleading could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts.”

Consequently the court can dismiss a claim when the court finds the facts, even if pleading more than simple claim of injury do not support the necessary steps to prove the plaintiff’s claim. The plaintiff’s complaint requires more than mere allegations.

The first issue was whether the United States could use a state statute as a defense to a claim.

The liability of the United States is determined “in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual in like circumstances.” Because plaintiff’s accident occurred in Oregon, this action is governed by Oregon law.

The court then looked at the Oregon Recreational Use Statute, ORS § 105.682. Like most recreational use statutes, a landowner is not liable for injuries if they do not charge for the use of their land.

The plaintiff argued that because the defendant charged for use of the land at other locations in the Deschutes Forest the defendant, Forest Service could not rely on the recreational use statute. Here the US Forest Service charged to use the land to ski and to camp. However, the plaintiff was not camping or skiing, nor whether they are engaging in an activity at the location where fees are charged to ski or camp.

A fee charged at one end of the Deschutes National Forest cannot, as a matter of public policy, waive immunity at the other end of the same forest, thousands of miles away, simply because the government made a charge.

There must be some relationship between the fee charged and the activity which the plaintiff engaged in which caused his injury.

So Now What?

This case lays out an easy analysis to understand the requirements to win a motion to dismiss. Motions to dismiss are usually filed prior to the answer of the defendant being filed and are done so when the plaintiff’s claim fails in all respects to present any evidence which the court can find to support the claims of the plaintiff.

If the motion to dismiss is not granted the defendant is instructed to file their answer and discovery begins. After or during discovery, one or more of the parties can file a motion for summary judgment. A motion for summary judgment is normally how a case is dismissed prior to trial. Motions to dismiss are rarely granted.

In this case, the next motion would have probably been based on the fact the plaintiff assumed the risk by taking off, off the trail when he crashed.

This is also instructional in showing the defendant United States through any of its land-management agencies, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, US Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation or US Fish & Wildlife Service.

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Stringer v. United States Department of Agriculture, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 150168

Stringer v. United States Department of Agriculture, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 150168

Daniel T. Stringer, Plaintiff, v. United States Department of Agriculture (Forest Service), Defendant.

Civ. No. 6:13-cv-1902-MC

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF OREGON

2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 150168

October 21, 2014, Decided

October 21, 2014, Filed

COUNSEL: [*1] For Daniel T Stringer, Plaintiff: J. Randolph Pickett, LEAD ATTORNEY, Pickett Dummigan Rhodes, LLP, Portland, OR; Matthew D. Kaplan, Matthew D. Kaplan, LLC, Portland, OR; R. Brendan Dummigan, Pickett Dummigan Rhodes, LLP, Portland, OR; Kristen C. West, Pickett Dummigan, LLC, Portland, OR.

For United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Defendant: James E. Cox, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Portland, OR.

JUDGES: Michael J. McShane, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: Michael J. McShane

OPINION

OPINION AND ORDER

MCSHANE, Judge:

Plaintiff Daniel Stringer was injured while snowmobiling in the Deschutes National Forest. The United States Forest Service (Forest Service), which manages the Deschutes National Forest, allows members of the public to snowmobile on approximately 600 miles of trail within the forest free of charge.

The Court is asked to consider whether the Forest Service waived sovereign immunity under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346, 2671-80. Because Stringer neither paid a “charge” nor engaged or intended to engage in an activity subject to a “charge,” this Court finds that the Forest Service did not waive its immunity. Thus, defendant’s motion to dismiss, ECF No. 10, is GRANTED. [*2]

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

This action arises out of a snowmobile accident occurring in the Deschutes National Forest. On March 24, 2012, Stringer, along with five companions, rented five snowmobiles at a rental facility in Bend, Oregon. Compl. 3, ECF No. 1; Decl. of James E. Cox, Jr. 5, ECF No. 13-1. After receiving a 15-minute training tutorial, the group traveled to Wanoga Sno-Park. Decl. of James E. Cox, Jr. 2, ECF No. 13-3. Wanoga Sno-Park, a snowmobiling park located within the Deschutes National Forest between Bend and Mount Bachelor, is open to the public free of charge.1 See Decl. of Kevin W. Larkin 2-3, 5 ECF No. 11.

1 The state of Oregon does charge a $5 vehicle parking fee to park in the Wanoga Sno-Park parking lot. See Compl. 2-3, ECF No. 1; OREGON DEP’T OF TRANSP.,OREGON.GOV: SNO-PARK PARKING PERMITS, http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/DMV/pages/vehicle/sno_park_permits.aspx(last visited Oct. 20, 2014).

At approximately 10 a.m., Stringer and his group departed on snowmobile trail #5 heading west toward Elk Lake Resort. Decl. of James E. Cox, Jr. 5, ECF No. 13-1. Stringer operated a two person sled accompanied by his fiancee, Danielle McBurnett. Compl. 3, ECF No. 1. Between 11:30 a.m. and 11:45 a.m., the group arrived at Elk Lake Resort. Decl. of [*3] James E. Cox, Jr. 5, ECF No. 13-1. After a brief break, the group decided to postpone lunch and return to Wanoga Sno-Park on snowmobile trail #5 heading east. Compl. 3, ECF No. 1; Decl. of James E. Cox, Jr. 5, ECF No. 13-1.

At approximately 12:50 p.m., the group approached a bridge at Falls Creek. See Decl. of James E. Cox, Jr. 1, ECF No. 13-1. Stringer, accompanied by McBurnett, sped up and pulled away from the group. Id. at 5. As he pulled away, Stringer left the trail and cut across an open meadow. Compl. 3, ECF No. 1. Realizing that the meadow led to an embankment of Falls Creek, Jessi Davis, a member of the snowmobiling group, sped up in an unsuccessful attempt to warn Stringer. Decl. of James E. Cox, Jr. 5, ECF No. 13-1. Stringer’s snowmobile launched over the creek and crashed into the far embankment head-on. Compl. 3, ECF No. 1. Stringer and McBurnett fell approximately 15 feet to the bottom of the ravine; resulting in extensive injuries. Id. at 3, 5. Stringer now seeks damages under the FTCA. Id. at 6.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter that “state[s] a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007). A claim is plausible on its face when [*4] the factual allegations allow the court to infer the defendant’s liability based on the alleged conduct. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009). The factual allegations must present more than “the mere possibility of misconduct.” Id. at 678.

While considering a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all allegations of material fact as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Burgert v. Lokelani Bernice Pauahi Bishop Trust, 200 F.3d 661, 663 (9th Cir. 2000). However, the Court is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286, 106 S. Ct. 2932, 92 L. Ed. 2d 209 (1986). If the complaint is dismissed, leave to amend should be granted unless the court “determines that the pleading could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts.” Doe v. United States, 58 F.3d 494, 497 (9th Cir. 1995) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff, in reliance on Coleman v. Oregon Parks & Recreation Dep’t, 347 Or. 94, 217 P.3d 651 (2009), contends that defendant waived sovereign immunity under the FTCA by making a “charge” under ORS §§ 105.672(1)(a), 105.688(3). In response, defendant contests plaintiff’s interpretation of Coleman and argues that a charge was not made, and even if made, Wanoga Sno-Park is specific, separate, and distinct from any land that made such a charge.

The FTCA waives the sovereign immunity of the United States for claims based on the negligence of United States employees. 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1); Yanez v. United States, 63 F.3d 870, 872 (9th Cir. 1995). The liability of the United [*5] States is determined “in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual in like circumstances.” 28 U.S.C. § 2674. Because plaintiff’s accident occurred in Oregon, this action is governed by Oregon law. 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1); Yanez, 63 F.3d at 872.

As stated in ORS § 105.676, “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 . . . by limiting their liability toward persons entering thereon for such purposes . . . .” ORS § 105.6822 advances this policy by granting “immunity to landowners who open their land to the public for recreational purposes.” Coleman, 347 Or. at 97.

2 ORS § 105.682 provides:

(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 [*6] 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.

ORS § 105.688, however, limits the immunity provided in ORS § 105.682. ORS § 105.688 provides, in relevant part:

(3) Except as provided in subsection[] (4) . . . of this section, the immunities provided . . . do not apply if the owner makes any charge3 for permission to use the land for recreational purposes . . . .

(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,4 the immunities . . .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 [*7] purposes and the owner provides notice in the manner provided by subsection (8) of this section, the immunities . . . apply to the remainder of the owner’s land.

3 ORS § 105.672(1)(a) defines “Charge” as “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.” This definition excludes “the fee for a winter recreation parking permit or any other parking fee of $15 or less per day.” ORS § 105.672(1)(c).

4 ORS § 105.688(8) provides:

(8) Notices . . . 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.

Plaintiff contends that, under Coleman, defendant waived immunity by charging “a fee for any use of the land.” P1.’s Resp. to Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss 5, ECF No. 15 (emphasis in original). Specifically, plaintiff argues that because defendant charged third-parties5 a camping fee or a ski-lift fee within the Deschutes National Forest, defendant [*8] waived recreational immunity as to plaintiff’s injury occurring in that same forest. Id. at 5-8. This Court looks to Coleman.

5 Neither plaintiff nor any member of his snowmobiling group paid a camping fee or purchased a ski-lift ticket.

In Coleman, plaintiffs Bradley and Bonnie Coleman arrived at William M. Tugman State Park (Tugman Park) intending to camp overnight. 347 Or. at 96; Coleman v. Oregon Parks & Recreation Dep’t (Coleman App. Ct.), 221 Or. App. 484, 486, 190 P.3d 487 (2008), rev’d, 347 Or. 94, 217 P.3d 651 (2009). At that time, Tugman Park charged a fee for campsite and gazebo rental, but was otherwise open to the public free of charge. Coleman, 347 Or. at 96. Bradley, having arrived at the campsite, decided to explore the park with a friend on their mountain bikes. Coleman, 347 Or. at 96; Coleman App. Ct., 221 Or. App. at 486. While on a designated trail, Bradley rode his bike off a connected bridge, which lacked a ramp on one side. Coleman App. Ct., 221 Or. App. at 486.

The Supreme Court, in a four-to-three decision, denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment and concluded that defendant “did not establish that it made ‘no charge for permission to use’ Tugman Park.” Coleman, 347 Or. at 104. The Court further provided:

To be entitled to immunity, the landowner must make no charge for permission to use the land. If the landowner makes a charge for permission to use the its land, immunity does not apply, even if the injured person is not engaged in the use that was [*9] the basis for the charge at the time of injury. So, as in this case, if the landowner makes a charge to use a park for camping, the landowner forfeits its immunity, even if a camper is injured while biking.

Id. at 102-103 (emphasis in original). Plaintiff, in reliance on an excerpt from this quoted material, seeks to extend Coleman to the current action. This Court declines to do so.

The Deschutes National Forest comprises approximately 1.8 million acres of land, including three independent ranger districts. Decl. of Kevin W. Larkin 2, ECF No. 11. A fee charged at one end of the Deschutes National Forest cannot, as a matter of public policy, waive immunity at the other end of the same forest, thousands of miles away, simply because the government made a charge.6 See Hannon v. United States, 801 F. Supp. 323, 327 (E.D. Cal. 1992) (“The fact that somewhere else in the Inyo National Forest someone other than the plaintiff is charged for services does not negate the immunity defense throughout the Forest.”). As articulated in Coleman, there must be some requisite relationship between the fee charged and the injured plaintiff. 347 Or. at 103-104 (“As campers, plaintiffs were entitled to use all of Tugman Park, including its bike trials . . . . The state also did not establish that [*10] as a camper, plaintiffs’ use was limited to the piece of land associated with the charge.”) (emphasis added); see also Colin v. United States, No. C-99-5045 EDL, 2001 WL 776998, at *12 (N.D. Cal. May 17, 2001) (awarding summary judgment to defendant where “Plaintiff and his companions paid no fee to obtain access to the lake, either directly or indirectly”).7

6 The Coleman Court was presented with an analogous hypothetical:

Why, queries the state, would the legislature preclude recreational immunity for the owner of a 100-acre property that charged to use an equestrian riding center located on 10 acres of that land, but made 90 acres available to the public for free, when the plaintiff was injured hiking on the separate and distinct 90 acres?

347 Or. at 103. The Court declined to address the hypothetical, but indicated that “the land” as used in ORS § 105.688(2)(a) (amended 2009 and 2010), “may refer to a specific, separate, and distinct piece of real property.” Id.

7 In Colin, plaintiff was injured while diving into Lake Sonoma. 2001 WL 776998, at *1. At that time, the United States charged fees for overnight camping and boat launching. Id. at *11. Plaintiff, however, only engaged in activities that were free of charge: “day use of the swimming and picnic facilities.” [*11] Id.

Stringer, unlike the Colemans, lacked this requisite relationship. Stringer was neither a camper nor a skier;8, he was a snowmobiler. As a snowmobiler, Stringer engaged in an activity not subject to a “charge” under ORS § 105.672(1)(a). This conclusion is further supported by Justice Balmer’s dissenting opinion. In that opinion, Justice Balmer explained:

[U]nder the majority’s reasoning, if a person decided to rent a campsite (or to rent the gazebo), the state may not assert recreational immunity as to injuries suffered by that person while riding on a bike trial, but the state may assert such immunity as to a person who does not rent a campsite and who incurs an identical injury in an identical place on the land.

Coleman, 347 Or. at 109 (Balmer, J., dissenting). Stringer, like the dissent’s hypothetical non-camping bicyclist, is subject to recreational immunity. Had Stringer been either a camper or a skier, the state may have waived recreational immunity under ORS § 105.688. However, that factual scenario is not before this Court.

8 This Court reserves judgment as to whether either the camping fee or ski-lift fee qualify as “charges” under ORS § 105.672(1)(a).

CONCLUSION

For these reasons, defendant’s motion to dismiss, ECF No. 10, is GRANTED.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

DATED [*12] this 21st day of October, 2014.

/s/ Michael J. McShane

Michael J. McShane

United States District Judge


Oregon Recreational Use Statute

Oregon Statutes

Title 10. PROPERTY RIGHTS AND TRANSACTIONS

Chapter 105. Property Rights

PUBLIC USE OF LANDS

Current through 2015 Regular Session, Acts 2 through 49, 51 through 187, 189 through 204, 206 through 217, 222, and 228 through 241

§ 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

§ 105.692. Right to continued use of land following permitted use; presumption of dedication or other rights. 4

§ 105.699. Rules applicable to state lands. 5

§ 105.700. Prohibiting public access to private land; notice requirements; damages. 5

 

§ 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.

Cite as ORS 105.672

History. 1995 c.456 §1; 2007 c. 372, §1; 2009 c. 532, §1; 2010 c. 52, § 1

§ 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.

Cite as ORS 105.676

History. 1995 c.456 §2; 2009 c. 532, §3

§ 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.

Cite as ORS 105.682

History. 1995 c.456 §3; 2009 c. 532, §4

§ 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.

Cite as ORS 105.692

History. 1995 c.456 §5; 2009 c. 532, §5

§ 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.

Cite as ORS 105.699

History. 1979 c.434 §8; 1995 c.456 §7

§ 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.

Cite as ORS 105.700

History. 1999 c.933 §1

 

 


Fees are charged, recreation is happening, but can the recreational use act still protect a claim, yes, if the fees are not for the recreation

The grandparents were charged to camp at a city park, the plaintiffs, grandchildren, were not charged to be in the park so the Nebraska Recreational use act provides immunity.

Garreans, Jr., v. City of Omaha, 216 Neb. 487; 345 N.W.2d 309; 1984 Neb. LEXIS 942

State: Nebraska, Supreme Court of Nebraska

Plaintiff: John Garreans, Jr., a minor, by his next friend and father, John Garreans, Sr., et al.

Defendant: City of Omaha, a municipal corporation

Plaintiff Claims: failed to observe, inspect, and remove the 55-gallon drum; had failed to warn the public of the dangerous nature of the drum; was guilty of willful negligence

Defendant Defenses: Recreational Use Statute

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 1984

This is an older case. However, it has been followed and clarifies some of the issues concerning recreational use law. The grandparents of one of the plaintiff’s went camping in the city park. They paid a fee which the Supreme Court defined as a fee to “park a camper on a pad, for the right to pitch a tent in a tent camping area, and for the use of camper dumping facilities…” Anyone else visiting the park, including the plaintiff entered the park for no charge.

The plaintiffs were the grandson, of the grandparents who paid the fee. The plaintiff grandchildren had not paid any fee nor had his parents to enter and play in the park. While the children were there they had been given firecrackers to use by his father. A 55-gallon drum that was obviously not a trash barrel was sitting next to a trash barrel.

The drum was closed except for a plug which was removed on the top of the drum. The drum had a flammable sign on its side. The plaintiffs were using the drum to set the firecrackers on and light them. One child dropped a lit firecracker into the drum which exploded causing injuries to the plaintiff.

The trial court found for the plaintiff and found the city, which owned the park had:

…failed to properly supervise the area around camper pad No. 25; had failed to observe, inspect, and remove the 55-gallon drum; had failed to warn the public of the dangerous nature of the drum; was guilty of willful negligence; and that the plaintiffs were not contributorily negligent.

The defendant city appealed.

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

The Nebraska Recreational Use statute has been re-written so the sections quoted in this case may not be accurate today. The court quoted:

Neb. Rev. Stat. § 37-1002 (Reissue 1978) provides: “Subject to the provisions of section 37-1005, an owner of land owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for recreational purposes, or to give any warning of a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity on such premises to persons entering for such purposes.”

The new Nebraska Recreational Use statute states:

§ 37-731. Landowner; duty of care.

Subject to section 37-734, an owner of land owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for recreational purposes or to give any warning of a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity on such premises to persons entering for such purposes.

The court then focused on the term charge. The plaintiff argued the grandparents had paid a charge. Therefore, the recreational use statute did not apply.

However, the court found the money paid by the grandparents was not to enter on the land, but to access specific services.

The evidence in the present case is undisputed that no charge was made by the city for the right to enter N.P. Dodge Park. Those entering the park paid no admission fee.  Charges were made for the right to park a camper on a pad, for the right to pitch a tent in a tent camping area, and for the use of camper dumping facilities.  Payment of the fee by Mrs. Stoops did not entitle her to a greater right to use any of the park’s other facilities than that had by the general public. 

The court looked at other decisions, which had decided the fee issue based on the same analysis.

Georgia

…a fee paid to park a vehicle in a park was held not to constitute a charge for admission, as no charge was made upon those who entered on foot.  [Washington], wherein a fee for use of an inner tube was held not to be a charge within the contemplation of Washington’s recreational use statute.

Ohio

It is conceded that the Mosses and decedent O’Neal did not pay a fee ‘to enter’ the parks; rather, the consideration paid went for the purchase of gas, food and for the rental of a canoe.

Additionally, the plaintiff’s and their parents did not pay to enter on the land. The fee was paid by a grandparent, not the plaintiff. The grandparents entered the park at a different time and now with their children or grandchildren.

The next issue was whether the actions of the city in managing the park and not finding or removing the barrel were willful or wanton. Under Nebraska law willful and wanton is defined as:

In order for an action to be willful or wanton, the evidence must show that one acted with actual knowledge that a danger existed and that he intentionally failed to act to prevent the harm which was reasonably likely to result.  The term imparts knowledge and consciousness that injury is likely to result from the act done or omission to act, and a constructive intention as to the consequences.  To constitute willful misconduct there must be actual knowledge, or its legal equivalent, of the peril to be apprehended, coupled with a conscious failure to avert injury.  To constitute willful negligence the act done or omitted must be intended or must involve such reckless disregard of security and right as to imply bad faith.  Wanton negligence has been said to be doing or failing to do an act with reckless indifference to the consequences and with consciousness that the act or omission would probably cause serious injury.

The court found the city had acted correctly because the barrel had not been found by the city in its normal operation. If the city had found the barrel, the city stated the barrel would have been removed. The court then stated the not only was the city not willful and wanton, but the plaintiffs were contributorily negligent by their actions.

Contributory negligence has been replaced by joint and several liability. At the time, being found contributorily negligence would have been a complete bar to recovery by the plaintiffs. This analysis was based on the law which prohibited the use of fireworks by the city and by park regulation.

The court reversed the trial court decision finding for the city.

So Now What?

This is an old decision which still stands today and has been followed in numerous courts, which define their statutes this way. If you are a landowner whose land is open for recreation, this may provide a narrow window where you can open the land for free and yet recover some of your costs for extra services you may provide for people who wish to pay for those services.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Nebraska Recreational Use Statute

§ 37-730. Limitation of liability; purpose of sections.

The purpose of sections 37-729 to 37-736 is to encourage owners of land to make available to the public land and water areas 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

§ 37-731. Landowner; duty of care.

Subject to section 37-734, an owner of land owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for recreational purposes or to give any warning of a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity on such premises to persons entering for such purposes.

§ 37-732. Landowner; invitee; permittee; liability; limitation.

Subject to section 37-734, an owner of land who either directly or indirectly invites or permits without charge any person to use such property for recreational purposes does not thereby (1) extend any assurance that the premises are safe for any purpose, (2) confer upon such persons the legal status of an invitee or licensee to whom a duty of care is owed, or (3) assume responsibility for or incur liability for any injury to person or property caused by an act or omission of such persons.

§ 37-733. Land leased to state; duty of landowner.

Unless otherwise agreed in writing, an owner of land leased to the state for recreational purposes owes no duty of care to keep that land safe for entry or use by others or to give warning to persons entering or going upon such land of any hazardous conditions, uses, structures, or activities thereon. An owner who leases land to the state for recreational purposes shall not by giving such lease (1) extend any assurance to any person using the land that the premises are safe for any purpose, (2) confer upon such persons the legal status of an invitee or licensee to whom a duty of care is owed, or (3) assume responsibility for or incur liability for any injury to person or property caused by an act or omission of a person who enters upon the leased land. The provisions of this section shall apply whether the person entering upon the leased land is an invitee, licensee, trespasser, or otherwise.

§ 37-734. Landowner; liability.

Nothing in sections 37-729 to 37-736 limits in any way any liability which otherwise exists (1) for willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity or (2) for injury suffered in any case where the owner of land charges the person or persons who enter or go on the land.

§ 37-735. Sections, how construed.

Nothing in sections 37-729 to 37-736 creates a duty of care or ground of liability for injury to person or property.

§ 37-736. Obligation of person entering upon and using land.

Nothing in sections 37-729 to 37-736 limits in any way the obligation of a person entering upon or using the land of another for recreational purposes to exercise due care in his or her use of such land in his or her activities thereon.

 


Garreans, Jr., v. City of Omaha, 216 Neb. 487; 345 N.W.2d 309; 1984 Neb. LEXIS 942

Garreans, Jr., v. City of Omaha, 216 Neb. 487; 345 N.W.2d 309; 1984 Neb. LEXIS 942

John Garreans, Jr., a minor, by his next friend and father, John Garreans, Sr., et al., Appellees, v. City of Omaha, a municipal corporation, Appellant

No. 82-814

SUPREME COURT OF NEBRASKA

216 Neb. 487; 345 N.W.2d 309; 1984 Neb. LEXIS 942

February 17, 1984, Filed

COUNSEL: Herbert M. Fitle, City Attorney, James E. Fellows, and Timothy M. [***3] Kenny, for appellant.

Thomas F. Dowd and John P. Fahey of Dowd & Fahey, and J. Patrick Green, for appellees.

JUDGES: Krivosha, C.J., Boslaugh, White, Hastings, Caporale, Shanahan, and Grant, JJ. Shanahan, J., dissenting. White and Grant, JJ., join in this dissent.

OPINION BY: BOSLAUGH

OPINION

[*488] [**311] This is an action under the Nebraska Political Subdivisions Tort Claims Act against the City of Omaha, Nebraska, to recover damages for the injuries sustained by the plaintiffs, John Garreans, Jr., and Vince Hartline, in an explosion which occurred [**312] at N.P. Dodge Park on July 5, 1980, while the plaintiffs were visiting with their grandparents, Ray and Evelyn Stoops, at the park. The petition included a second cause of action for the medical expenses incurred by the parents of the plaintiffs as a result of the explosion. At the time of the accident both plaintiffs were 12 years of age. The action was brought by their fathers as the next friends of the plaintiffs. The defendant has raised no issue in this court concerning joinder.

The evidence shows that on July 3, 1980, Ray and Evelyn Stoops entered N.P. Dodge Park in Omaha, Nebraska, with their camper, intending [***4] to camp in the park over the 3-day holiday. Evelyn Stoops paid [*489] a $ 10.50 fee at the concessionaire’s office for the use of camper pad No. 25 for the 3-day period. Electrical service was provided at that pad. While they were setting up camp, the Stoopses noticed a black, 55-gallon drum nearby. The black drum was in addition to a trash barrel at the pad, which was a 55-gallon drum from which the top had been removed. Trash barrels, which consisted of 55-gallon drums from which the tops or lids had been removed, were distributed throughout the park, including the camping area. These drums were painted various colors and were labeled “TRASH” on the side.

Printing or lettering on the side of the black drum indicated that it had contained an antifreeze compound. A red or orange label, approximately 4 inches square, was affixed to the top of the drum. The label bore the legend “Flammable Liquid” printed below a representation of a fire or flames.

The lid or top of the black drum was intact, and the drum was closed except for a small opening, approximately 1 inch in diameter, from which a plug had been removed. There is no evidence that the city placed the black drum [***5] in the park, and a search of city records showed that the city had not purchased the black drum. The plaintiffs contended that the city was negligent in failing to remove the drum from the park.

On July 5, 1980, the plaintiffs entered the park to visit with their grandparents at camper pad No. 25. In accordance with park policy no admission fee was charged them. Both boys had been given firecrackers by their fathers. The boys used a cigarette lighter to light the firecrackers, and used the black drum as a shelf for their activities. The explosion occurred when they dropped a lighted firecracker into the black drum through the 1-inch hole in the lid. The drum exploded, spraying flammable liquid on the boys. John received severe burns on his [*490] lower extremities. Vince suffered injuries to his nose and arm, and was also burned.

The trial court found that the city had failed to properly supervise the area around camper pad No. 25; had failed to observe, inspect, and remove the 55-gallon drum; had failed to warn the public of the dangerous nature of the drum; was guilty of willful negligence; and that the plaintiffs were not contributorily negligent. Judgment was entered [***6] in the amount of $ 243,190.57 for John Garreans, Jr., and in the amount of $ 104,726.95 for Vince Hartline.

One of the principal issues in the case was whether the Recreation Liability Act was applicable. The city assigns as error the failure of the court to properly apply the standard of care found in the Recreation Liability Act.

Neb. Rev. Stat. § 37-1002 (Reissue 1978) provides: [HN1] “Subject to the provisions of section 37-1005, an owner of land owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for recreational purposes, or to give any warning of a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity on such premises to persons entering for such purposes.”

Neb. Rev. Stat. § 37-1005 (Reissue 1978) provides: [HN2] “Nothing in sections 37-1001 to 37-1008 limits in any way any liability which otherwise exists (1) for willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity, or (2) for injury suffered in any case where the owner of land charges the [**313] person or persons who enter or go on the land. Rental paid by a group, organization, corporation, the state or federal government shall not be deemed a charge made [***7] by the owner of the land.”

The act thus provides that an owner of a recreational facility is not liable for ordinary negligence unless a fee was charged for the right to enter the facility, although the owner may be liable for certain willful actions.

The trial court found that the fee paid by Evelyn [*491] Stoops for the use of the camper pad constituted a “charge” for entry upon land and that the actions of the city amounted to “willful negligence.”

Findings of fact made by the district court in cases brought under the Political Subdivisions Tort Claims Act will not be disturbed on appeal unless clearly wrong. Studley v. School Dist. No. 38, 210 Neb. 669, 316 N.W.2d 603 (1982); Watson v. City of Omaha, 209 Neb. 835, 312 N.W.2d 256 (1981).

The city through its operation of N.P. Dodge Park provides camping, picnic, and sports facilities, and the park is a “recreational facility” within the meaning of the act. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 37-1008 (Reissue 1978) [HN3] provides in part: “(3) the term recreational purposes shall include, but not be limited to, any one or any combination of the following: Hunting, fishing, swimming, boating, camping, picnicking, hiking, pleasure driving, [***8] nature study, water skiing, winter sports, and visiting, viewing, or enjoying historical, archaeological, scenic, or scientific sites, or otherwise using land for purposes of the user.” See Watson v. City of Omaha, supra.

The term “charge” is defined in § 37-1008: “(4) the term charge shall mean the amount of money asked in return for an invitation to enter or go upon the land.”

The clear meaning of this statute is that in order to constitute a charge, any moneys paid must be paid for the right to enter the facility. [HN4] Where the language of a statute is plain, direct, and unambiguous, no interpretation is needed, and the court is without authority to change such language. County of Douglas v. Board of Regents, 210 Neb. 573, 316 N.W.2d 62 (1982); State v. Schneckloth, Koger, and Heathman, 210 Neb. 144, 313 N.W.2d 438 (1981).

The evidence in the present case is undisputed that no charge was made by the city for the right to enter N.P. Dodge Park. Those entering the park paid no admission fee. Charges were made for the right to park a camper on a pad, for the right to [*492] pitch a tent in a tent camping area, and for the use of camper dumping facilities. Payment [***9] of the fee by Mrs. Stoops did not entitle her to a greater right to use any of the park’s other facilities than that had by the general public. We conclude that the fee paid by Evelyn Stoops was not a charge for entry upon the land but was a fee paid for the right to park a camper upon a specific pad.

This conclusion has been reached by other courts faced with similar issues. In Stone Mountain Mem. Assn. v. Herrington, 225 Ga. 746, 171 S.E.2d 521 (1969), a fee paid to park a vehicle in a park was held not to constitute a charge for admission, as no charge was made upon those who entered on foot. See, also, Jones v. United States, 693 F.2d 1299 (9th Cir. 1982), wherein a fee for use of an inner tube was held not to be a charge within the contemplation of Washington’s recreational use statute.

In Moss v. Dept., 62 Ohio St. 2d 138, 142, 404 N.E.2d 742, 745 (1980), the Ohio Supreme Court stated: “R.C. 1533.18(B) defines a ‘recreational user’ as one who has permission to enter upon ‘premises’ without the payment of a fee or consideration. It is conceded that the Mosses and decedent O’Neal did not pay a fee ‘to enter’ the parks; rather, the consideration paid went for [***10] the purchase of gas, food and for the rental of a canoe. Nor was this a situation wherein the state attempted to circumvent liability by charging fees for the use of all facilities, in essence charging an entrance fee, although not labelling it as such. It is undisputed that the Mosses and decedent [**314] O’Neal could have brought the same items to the parks that they purchased or rented while there, and still have made use of the park facilities. Consideration should not be deemed given under R.C. 1533.18(B) unless it is a charge necessary to utilize the overall benefits of a recreational area so that it may be regarded as an entrance or admittance fee. Appellants’ contention is without merit.”

[*493] Moreover, the fee for use of camper pad No. 25 was paid by Evelyn Stoops and not by the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs therefore were nonpaying, recreational users of the park facilities and thus are not entitled to recover for injuries not caused by the city’s willful actions. See Garfield v. United States, 297 F. Supp. 891 (W.D. Wis. 1969).

Since the plaintiffs did not pay a charge to enter the park, the next issue which we consider is whether the evidence will support [***11] a finding that the city was guilty of a “willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity.” A review of the evidence in light of the applicable law warrants only the conclusion that the actions of the city were not willful or malicious. The finding of the trial court on this issue is not supported by the evidence.

[HN5] In order for an action to be willful or wanton, the evidence must show that one acted with actual knowledge that a danger existed and that he intentionally failed to act to prevent the harm which was reasonably likely to result. The term imparts knowledge and consciousness that injury is likely to result from the act done or omission to act, and a constructive intention as to the consequences. To constitute willful misconduct there must be actual knowledge, or its legal equivalent, of the peril to be apprehended, coupled with a conscious failure to avert injury. To constitute willful negligence the act done or omitted must be intended or must involve such reckless disregard of security and right as to imply bad faith. Wanton negligence has been said to be doing or failing to do an act with reckless indifference [***12] to the consequences and with consciousness that the act or omission would probably cause serious injury. 57 Am. Jur. 2d Negligence §§ 101-105 (1971).

In Ashton v. Blue River Power Co., 117 Neb. 661, 222 N.W. 42 (1928), a workmen’s compensation case, the court stated: [HN6] “[W]ilful negligence may be defined [*494] as (1) a deliberate act; or (2) such conduct as evidenced reckless indifference to safety. As a statutory term it involves more than want of ordinary care. It implies a rash and careless spirit, not necessarily amounting to wantonness, but approximating it in a degree, a willingness to take a chance.” (Syllabus of the court.)

In Roberts v. Brown, 384 So. 2d 1047, 1048 (Ala. 1980), the court said: [HN7] “‘Wantonness has been defined as the conscious doing of some act or the omission of some duty which under knowledge of existing conditions and while conscious that, from the doing of such act or the omission of such duty, injury will likely or probably result, and before a party can be said to be guilty of wanton conduct it must be shown that with reckless indifference to the consequences he consciously and intentionally did some wrongful act or omitted some known [***13] duty which produced the result. Griffin Lumber Co. v. Harper, 247 Ala. 616, 25 So.2d 505; Taylor v. Thompson, 271 Ala. 18, 122 So.2d 277; Johnson v. Sexton [277 Ala. 627, 173 So.2d 790], supra.’ Lewis v. Zell, 279 Ala. 33, 36, 181 So.2d 101 (1965).”

In Ewing v. Cloverleaf Bowl, 20 Cal. 3d 389, 402, 572 P.2d 1155, 1161, 143 Cal. Rptr. 13, 20 (1978), the court stated: [HN8] “‘[W]illful misconduct implies the intentional doing of something either with knowledge, express or implied, that serious injury is a probable, as distinguished from a possible, result, or the intentional doing of an act with a wanton and reckless disregard of its consequences.’ ( Williams v. Carr, supra, 68 Cal.2d 579 584 [440 P.2d 505, 509, 68 Cal. Rptr. 305, 309 (1968)].) ‘If conduct is sufficiently lacking in consideration for the rights of others, reckless, heedless to an [**315] extreme, and indifferent to the consequences it may impose, then, regardless of the actual state of the mind of the actor and his actual concern for the rights of others, we call it willful misconduct. . . .'”

In Jones v. United States, 693 F.2d 1299 (9th Cir. [*495] 1982), the court addressed [***14] the issue of what constitutes willful or wanton misconduct under Washington’s recreational use statute. The court held that the defendant must act or fail to act with actual knowledge of the hazard in order to be held liable under the statute.

The record does show that park employees did not observe the barrel on their routine trips through the park. The employees testified that had they noticed the barrel, they would have removed it.

The failure to observe the barrel may have been ordinary negligence in that the city in the exercise of due care “should have known” of the existence of a danger, but that does not amount to willful misconduct. An actor cannot act willfully in failing to remove a danger when he has no knowledge of it.

The city has also assigned as error the finding of the trial court that the plaintiffs were not guilty of contributory negligence. [HN9] An actor is contributorily negligent if he breaches the duty imposed upon him by law to protect himself from injury; if his actions concur and cooperate with actionable negligence of the defendant; and if his actions contribute to his injuries as a proximate cause. Stephen v. City of Lincoln, 209 Neb. 792, 311 N.W.2d [***15] 889 (1981). A child is required to exercise that degree of care which a person of that age would naturally and ordinarily use in the same situation under the same circumstances. Huff v. Ames, 16 Neb. 139, 19 N.W. 623 (1884); Camerlinck v. Thomas, 209 Neb. 843, 312 N.W.2d 260 (1981).

Although we have concluded that no “willful or malicious” negligence existed on the part of the city, we believe the evidence in this case shows that the plaintiffs were contributorily negligent sufficient to bar their recovery as a matter of law. The finding of the trial court to the contrary was clearly wrong.

The use of firecrackers in the city of Omaha and within the park was prohibited by ordinance, as well as by park regulation. The plaintiffs had been [*496] warned by their parents that fireworks were dangerous and that they should be careful when using them. The plaintiffs testified that they were aware of the danger involved in using fireworks. The degree of care required increases when an actor is dealing with a dangerous activity such as exploding firecrackers. See Martinez v. Hoveling, 184 Neb. 560, 169 N.W.2d 428 (1969). Despite these warnings, the evidence is that [***16] the plaintiffs were lighting firecrackers above the opening in the drum and dropping lighted firecrackers into the drum.

Although there is conflicting testimony with regard to whether the boys noticed the “flammable” marking on the drum, the label was plainly visible, and the plaintiffs testified that they understood what the term “flammable” meant. In the exercise of proper care the boys should have seen the warning label on the top of the drum upon which they were lighting firecrackers. Moreover, they should have known that dropping lighted firecrackers into the drum created an unreasonable risk of explosion.

In the following cases the actions of children with regard to their use of firecrackers was held to be contributory negligence: Thornton v. Ionia Free Fair Association, 229 Mich. 1, 200 N.W. 958 (1924) (14-year-old, who had experience with firecrackers, held negligent in setting off firecrackers he found at fairgrounds); Mathews v. City of Albany, 36 Cal. App. 2d 147, 97 P.2d 266 (1939) (12-year-old who had knowledge of properties of fireworks held contributorily negligent); Shelanie v. National Fireworks Association, 487 S.W.2d 921 (Ky. App. 1972) (14-year-old [***17] who admitted he knew and had been warned about dangers of fireworks held contributorily negligent).

[**316] The judgment of the district court is reversed and the cause remanded with directions to dismiss the petition.

Reversed and remanded with directions.

DISSENT BY: SHANAHAN

DISSENT

[*497] Shanahan, J., dissenting.

The majority opinion misconstrues the Recreation Liability Act, Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 37-1001 through 37-1008 (Reissue 1978). Section 37-1001 states: “The purpose of sections 37-1001 to 37-1008 is to encourage owners of land to make available to the public land and water areas 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.” The legislative history of the Recreation Liability Act and numerous interpretative decisions by courts of states having statutes similar to the Nebraska act compel the conclusion that the act does not apply to the present case. The Recreation Liability Act is designed to encourage public access to and recreational use of privately held undeveloped lands. To induce the private landowner’s permission [***18] for such public use, the Legislature has promised reduced exposure to liability for injuries occurring in recreational areas opened to the public. See, Tallaksen v. Ross, 167 N.J. Super. 1, 400 A.2d 485 (1979); Harrison v. Middlesex Water Company, 158 N.J. Super. 368, 386 A.2d 405 (1978); Michalovic v. Racing Assn, 79 A.D.2d 82, 436 N.Y.S.2d 468 (1981); Johnson v. Stryker Corp., 70 Ill. App. 3d 717, 388 N.E.2d 932 (1979); Cedeno v. Lockwood, Inc., 250 Ga. 799, 301 S.E.2d 265 (1983). “The purpose of this [recreational use legislation] is to limit the liability of private landowners, thereby encouraging them to make their property available for public recreation. . . . Thus, there is an objective basis for the aim of recreational use acts: to promote increased public access to private lands by reducing the liability of landowners and occupiers.” Barrett, Good Sports and Bad Lands: The Application of Washington’s Recreational Use Statute Limiting Landowner Liability, 53 Wash. L. Rev. 1, 3-4 (1977). By the Recreation Liability Act the state avoids expensive acquisition of considerable land for [*498] public recreational use, that is, state-owned or -leased [***19] areas, and in return grants restricted or limited liability to private landowners providing areas for public recreation. Consequently, the question of negligence in operating a city park is not within the purview of the Recreation Liability Act. Putting aside the particular situation involved in this case, patrons of public parks should be alert to the effect of the majority opinion and its rule regarding care required in operating a municipal park, i.e., responsibility for injury caused only by willful or malicious failure to protect the public admitted without charge to any city park.

Without conceding applicability of the Nebraska Recreation Liability Act to the present case, we disagree with other aspects of the majority opinion.

There were 46 camper pads within the city park. Ray Stoops, grandfather of the plaintiffs, paid $ 10.50 to park his trailer on camper pad No. 25. The fee or charge entitled the Stoopses to 3 days’ occupancy of the camper pad, namely, until July 6, according to registration receipt No. 6268 issued by the park caretaker for pad No. 25. Also, in exchange for the fee, the city provided Stoops with electrical service for his camper pad, or, as the city [***20] superintendent of parks testified, Stoops was “allowed to plug into the electrical stanchion that’s at that particular pad for his trailer.” Electrical service was not available to everyone entering the park but was provided only to those paying for particular camper pads. As testified by city park employees, the superintendent of parks, district foreman, and caretaker for the park, Stoops had “exclusive possession” of pad No. 25, for, as the superintendent of parks testified, “That’s the whole intent.” The district park foreman acknowledged that when a person “rented” a pad, that person was entitled to exclusive use to the extent that, upon request by the paying occupant of the pad, park personnel would [**317] remove any unwanted or unauthorized person intruding upon the camper pad. [*499] If those efforts of park personnel were unsuccessful, police would be summoned to remove the unwanted intruder. As described by the park caretaker: “I would call the cruiser.” The park caretaker also testified there was no restriction regarding visitors to Stoops’ camper pad, including visits by Stoops’ grandchildren, which was “consistent with the fee that he paid.”

The majority opinion [***21] acknowledges that Stoops paid “a fee . . . for the right to park a camper upon a specific pad.” Although the majority feels that the nature of negligence under the Recreation Liability Act turns only on the presence or absence of a charge for admission, an admission fee is not the sole determinant regarding the type or degree of negligence required for liability under the act. The March 26, 1965, Committee Statement on L.B. 280 (Recreation Liability Act), of the Agriculture and Recreation Committee, contains the following: “The act provides no inherent limitations on liability for willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity, or for injury suffered in any case when a charge is made unless that charge be in the nature of rent.” (Emphasis supplied.) Stoops’ use and occupancy of the camper pad included benefits and rights not enjoyed by the general public admitted to the park, and even included exclusion of the public from the camper pad, if Stoops saw fit. Stoops acquired such benefits and rights by payment of the fee or charge not required of the general public for admission to the park. In the final analysis, and by [***22] any reasonable definition or construction, the charge paid by Stoops was rent, that is, consideration or compensation “paid for use or occupation of property.” Black’s Law Dictionary 1166 (5th ed. 1979). See, Modular Concepts, Inc. v. So. Brunswick Twp., 146 N.J. Super. 138, 369 A.2d 32 (1977); Rosewood Corp. v. Transamerica Ins., 57 Ill. 2d 247, 311 N.E.2d 673 (1974); Whiting Paper Co. v. Holyoke Water Power [*500] Co., 276 Mass. 542, 177 N.E. 574 (1931); White Roofing Company v. Wheeler, 39 Ala. App. 662, 106 So. 2d 658 (1957); Kennedy v. Boston-Continental Nat. Bank, 11 F. Supp. 611 (D. Mass. 1935); Young v. Home Telephone Co., 201 S.W. 635 (Mo. App. 1918). “Charge,” within the Recreation Liability Act, includes not only payment for admission to a recreational area but also the charge paid for the use or occupancy of a site within the recreational area. The Recreation Liability Act was clearly intended to preserve rights of persons injured by ordinary negligence of the landowners charging rent as in the case now before us.

As one of the grounds for denying recovery by the plaintiffs, the majority states: “Moreover, the fee for use of camper pad No. [***23] 25 was paid by Evelyn Stoops [plaintiffs’ grandmother] and not by the plaintiffs.” Lurking within the majority opinion is the requirement of privity — liability dependent upon a precedent contractual relationship between the injured person and the negligent tort-feasor. “At one time a showing of privity was considered necessary to occasion liability for negligence, but the courts have been getting away from that doctrine and many have entirely repudiated and discarded it; and under the modern doctrine liability is based on foreseeability rather than privity.” 65 C.J.S. Negligence § 4(11) at 502 (1966). Justice Cardozo, almost 70 years ago, rejected the condition or requirement of privity in a product liability suit for negligence, when he stated in MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co., 217 N.Y. 382, 390, 394, 111 N.E. 1050, 1053-54 (1916): “We have put aside the notion that the duty to safeguard life and limb, when the consequences of negligence may be foreseen, grows out of contract and nothing else. . . . [F]oresight of the consequences involves the creation of a duty.” As expressed in Nelson v. Union Wire Rope Corp., 31 Ill. 2d 69, 86, 199 N.E.2d 769, 779 (1964): “It [***24] is axiomatic that every person owes to all others a duty to exercise ordinary [*501] care to guard against injury which naturally flows as a reasonably probable and foreseeable consequence of his act, and that such duty does not depend upon contract, [**318] privity of interest or the proximity of relationship, but extends to remote and unknown persons.” See, also, Webel v. Yale University, 125 Conn. 515, 7 A.2d 215 (1939); cf., McKinley v. Slenderella Systems of Camden, N.J., Inc., 63 N.J. Super. 571, 165 A.2d 207 (1960); Robinson v. Colebrook Guaranty Bank, 109 N.H. 382, 254 A.2d 837 (1969). Today, most courts adhere to the rule that duty as an element of negligence is based not on privity but on foreseeability that harm may result if care is not exercised. See, Harvard v. Palmer & Baker Engineers, Inc., 293 Ala. 301, 302 So. 2d 228 (1974); Orlo v. Connecticut Co., 128 Conn. 231, 21 A.2d 402 (1941); cf. J’Aire Corp. v. Gregory, 24 Cal. 3d 799, 598 P.2d 60, 157 Cal. Rptr. 407 (1979). “The duty of vigilance to prevent injury has its source in the law applicable to human relations rather than in a narrow conception of privity.” 57 Am. Jur. 2d Negligence [***25] § 37 at 385 (1971). In the case before us it was foreseeable that family members, including the Stoopses’ grandchildren, would be visiting Ray and Evelyn Stoops at their trailer. This foreseeability resulted in the city’s duty to use reasonable care in protecting Stoops’ visitors, namely, guarding against injuries caused by hazards such as the barrel bomb on pad No. 25. It is some small solace that the explosion did not launch the trailer from the pad. “The rule of reasonable care under the circumstances could not limit the conduct of Robinson Crusoe as he was first situated. But as soon as he saw the tracks in the sand, the rule began to have vitality. He then had notice that there might be other persons on the island, and this knowledge of their presence made it his duty as a reasonable man to use reasonable care to the end that no act of his should injure them.” Huckabee v. Grace, 48 Ga. App. 621, 628, 173 S.E. 744, 749 (1934). Footprints, camper pads, and trash barrels; [*502] the result is the same. At sea on privity, Nebraska jurisprudence will find itself on an island without even Crusoe.

Established park policy called for removal of any barrel not placed in [***26] the park by the city. The city had no black barrels as a part of the trash collection system for the park. (On July 5, after the explosion and in front of the caretaker’s house in the park, an arson investigator for the Omaha Police Department found a similar “55-gallon drum, trash-can” bearing a precaution about contents with an “extremely high flash point.”) City employees made frequent trips in the area of pad No. 25 and daily removed trash from the other, differently colored barrel sitting inches from the black barrel. The city’s activity, or more aptly the city’s inactivity, and the barrel’s continued presence at pad No. 25 would lead anyone to conclude there was nothing dangerous in that setting. As testified by Evelyn Stoops, grandmother of the plaintiffs: “Anything in the park is supposed to be safe . . . .” Under the circumstances one would reasonably believe and rely that the city had provided a safe park and not a dump for a discarded, dangerous barrel containing combustible material. “‘In determining the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain a judgment, it must be considered in the light most favorable to the successful party. Every controverted fact must be resolved [***27] in his favor and he is entitled to the benefit of every inference that can reasonably be deduced from the evidence.’ [Citations omitted.] Moreover, under the Political Subdivisions Tort Claims Act, section 23-2406, R.R.S. 1943, the ‘findings of a District Court under the act will not be disturbed on appeal unless they are clearly wrong.’ [Citation omitted.]” Daniels v. Andersen, 195 Neb. 95, 98, 237 N.W.2d 397, 400 (1975). Negligence — the city’s negligence and contributory negligence of the plaintiffs — was a question of fact resolved by the trial court in favor of the plaintiffs. [*503] That conclusion and determination is not clearly wrong.

For these reasons the judgment of the trial court should have been affirmed.

White and Grant, JJ., join in this dissent.


75 Ft waterfall, middle of the night, no lights and a BAC of .18% results in two fatalities and one lawsuit. However, facts that created fatalities were the defense.

Tennessee’s duty to protect its citizens more than its duty to safety to invitees to its state parks is refreshing.

Morgan v. State of Tennessee, 2004 Tenn. App. LEXIS 62

State: Tennessee Court of Appeals

Plaintiff: Evelean Morgan

Defendant: State of Tennessee

Plaintiff Claims: negligently creating or maintaining a dangerous condition at Colditz Cove State Natural Area

Defendant Defenses: (1) Tennessee recreational use statute Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 (1995), (2) lack of actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition, and (3) assertion that the decedent’s fault exceeded its own

Holding: For the Defendant State of Tennessee

Year: 2004

After the local bars closed the deceased and several friends went to a local state park to continue talking and drinking. The park was created because of the rock formations and the 75’ Northrup Falls. After taking and drinking in the parking lot, several members of the group decided to walk to the falls. The trail was primitive with no lights. One member of the group of five had a flashlight.

At a Y in the trail, two members of the group sat down to talk. The remaining three continued to walk. At one point, one person went into the bushes to pee and fell over the cliff on his way back. One member of the group sitting at the Y came down to assist. Later that same person decided to go for help, taking the flashlight with him.

The two remaining parties tried to start a fire to no avail. Eventually, the deceased, the daughter of the plaintiff in this lawsuit, also fell over the cliff. Approximately, an hour later rescue workers found the deceased floating in the water at the base of the falls. The deceased, the subject to this lawsuit had a blood-alcohol content of .18%

The mother of the deceased, the plaintiff, sued the State of Tennessee because the falls were a state park. In Tennessee this means filing a claim with the Tennessee Claims Commission. The claims commission commissioner reviewed the motions and granted the State of Tennessee’s motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff appealed. The commissioner’s decision was not based on the Tennessee Recreational Use Act but was based on the state’s defense of “(2) its lack of actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition, and (3) its assertion that the decedent’s fault exceeded its own

Several states employ a separate state agency to handle claims against the state. The commissioner or judge hearing the claims is usually an attorney, called an administrative law judge. These judges operate with a separate set of rules of civil procedure and sometimes rules of evidence. The entire procedure is controlled by the statute that outlines how the state may be sued.

Summary of the case

The appellate court first looked at the Tennessee Recreation Use Act to see if it applied to this case. For the plaintiff to defeat the recreational use act, she must:

(1) prove that the defendant is not a “landowner,” (2) prove that the injured party was not engaged in a recreational activity, or (3) prove that the landowner’s conduct fits within one of the three exceptions in Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-104.

The court quickly determined that Tennessee was a landowner and that hiking and/or sightseeing (at night) was a recreational activity. The third issue was whether an exception to the act applied to the case. The sole exception argued by the plaintiff was the actions of the state were gross negligence.

Under Tennessee’s law, gross negligence is defined as:

… negligent conduct reflecting a reckless disregard for the safety of others. It does not require a particular state of mind as long as it creates an extremely unjustified risk to others. It differs from ordinary negligence only in degree, not in kind. Thus, gross negligence is a negligent act or failure to act that reflects more than lack of ordinary care (simple negligence) but less than intentional misconduct.

Ordinarily, the determination of whether a defendant’s actions were gross negligence is a factual determination, which can only be done by the trier of fact or a jury. However, if the facts are not in dispute and conclusions reasonable drawn from the facts would only lead to one conclusion; a court can determine if the acts rose to the level of gross negligence.

We find no evidence in this record upon which a reasonable person would conclude that the State was grossly negligent with regard to the construction or maintenance of the Colditz Cove State Natural Area.

The court then made a statement that places Tennessee in the minority, that the protection of the natural area in this case takes precedence over the safety issues.

The State had a statutory obligation to maintain this area in a pristine, natural condition. Erecting warning signs, installing lighting along the trails, fencing the entire area, or installing guard rails, barriers, or other sorts of buffers, while perhaps appropriate at Dollywood, would have been entirely unwarranted and unnecessary for a natural area such as Colditz Cove.

The court held that the recreational use act applied, and the plaintiff had not raised any defenses to its application.

The court then looked at the second issue, whether the state met the ordinary reasonable person standard of care for a landowner.

The State is not the insurer of the safety of persons on its property. It is, however, liable to these persons to the same extent that private owners and occupiers of land are liable, because Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C) has imposed this common-law duty on the State. Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C) provides that the State may be held monetarily liable for negligently created or maintained dangerous conditions on state controlled real property.

The state, as a landowner, has a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent foreseeable injuries to persons on the premises. To prevail, the plaintiff must prove the actions leading to the fatality were a reasonably foreseeable probability. The court found this had not been proven.

The record contains no factual, legal, or policy basis for concluding that the State should have foreseen that intoxicated persons that were unfamiliar with the Colditz Cove State Natural Area would hike down the trail to Northrup Falls in the middle of the night without adequate illumination.

The final argument made by the plaintiff was the state’s gross negligence was greater than the negligence of the deceased. Having found the state was not grossly negligent, this argument also failed.

Ms. Zegilla’s [deceased] voluntary intoxication on the evening of July 26, 1997 does not relieve her from the responsibility of her own negligence. She was required to use reasonable care under the circumstances, and her conduct must be measured against the conduct of an ordinary, reasonable person rather than an ordinary and reasonable intoxicated person. Accordingly, if her conduct while intoxicated was a proximate cause of her death, it may be compared with the fault of the other parties whose fault was also a proximate cause.

It cannot be reasonably disputed that Ms. Zegilla was intoxicated when she arrived at Colditz Cove State Natural Area after midnight on July 26, 1997. Even though she had never visited the natural area before, she decided to venture into a wooded area down an unfamiliar, rough foot path in the dark. After one of her companions fell to his death, she continued to walk around in the darkness even though she must have known that danger was close at hand. As tragic as her death is, the only conclusion that reasonable persons can draw from these facts is that her fault far exceeded any fault that may reasonably be attributed to the State.

The plaintiff failed to make any arguments that the state could be held liable for the death of her daughter.

So Now What?

State statutes that outline the procedures for a claim against a state are so varied; it is difficult to rely on any decision on this issue. Similar arguments can be made when reviewing a state’s Recreational Use Statute.

However, here, the State of Tennessee did nothing to cause injury to the deceased. More importantly for future generations, the state does not have to destroy its natural areas to prevent drunks walking around parks at night from getting hurt.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Suit against a city for construction retaining wall in City Park identifies defenses to be employed to protect park patrons.

Remember each state (and sometimes city) has different state immunity acts. This analysis only applies to Dallas Texas. What is interesting is city could be held liable for gross negligence.

Mitchell v. City of Dallas, 855 S.W.2d 741; 1993 Tex. App. LEXIS 1714

State: Texas

Plaintiff: Saundra Harris Mitchell and Jan P. Mitchell, Individually and as Next Friends of Ashley J. Harris

Defendant: City of Dallas

Plaintiff Claims: City failed to warn park users of the steep drop-off and failed to construct a fence or other barrier around this dangerous area

Defendant Defenses: Texas Tort Claims Act

Holding: Reversed and remanded for trial

Year: 1993

State tort claims acts very greatly from state to state. In many states, it is impossible to sue the state and in others, it is quite easy. Some states limit the amount of recovery and the type of claims, in others not so much. If you work for a city, county or state as part of the parks, recreation or open space program, it will be beneficial to learn your state’s tort claim act and your requirements under it.

In this case, the City of Dallas, Texas, the defendant constructed a 15’ to 25’ retaining wall to stop erosion next to a creek. The top of the wall was next to a sidewalk and a restroom. The plaintiff minor was riding his bicycle on the sidewalk when he fell off and over the wall.

The plaintiff through his mother and father sued the city for his injuries. At the trial court level the city filed a motion for summary judgment and won. The plaintiff’s appealed.

Several issues in the decision dealing with the intricacies of the Texas Tort Claims Act will be skipped in this review because it applies solely to Texas.

Summary of the case

The first interesting issue was whether the claims of the plaintiff were governed by common law or statute. Meaning did the Texas law on land owners apply or did the law that existed prior to the statute concerning landowners apply. Said another way, did the ability to establish and create city parks occur because it was a proprietary function of a city. State statutes state that “operation of parks and zoos is a governmental function.”

The difference between a proprietary function and a governmental function will define the different claims and possible recoveries that are available. In this case, the appellate court held that the park was covered by the statute and the creation, care; maintenance of the park was governmental. As such, claims had to come under the Texas Tort Claims Act.

The next issue was the standard of care owed by the city to park users. The plaintiff claimed they were invitees, and as such, owed a higher standard of care than a trespasser. An invitee is a person the landowner invites to the land and receives a benefit from the invites’ presence on the land. The plaintiff argued that because they paid taxes, they were invitees.

There are three definitions of people coming upon the land; Trespassers, Licensees and Invitees. A landowner owes little duty to a trespasser, only owes a licensee a duty to refrain from wilful, wanton or gross negligence, and owes an invite the highest degree of care.

However, the payment of taxes argument did not fly with the court. Under the statute, the standard of care owed by a city to park users was that of a licensee.

The duty owed by the City to park users under the Texas Tort Claims Act is the duty that a private person owes to a licensee. An owner or occupier of land must refrain from injuring a licensee by willful, wanton, or gross negligence. An owner or occupant must also warn a licensee of any dangerous condition, or make the condition reasonably safe, if the land owner has actual knowledge of the dangerous condition, and the licensee does not.   

Under the law of Texas the city, to be liable, must be grossly negligent.

Gross negligence is defined as “such an entire want of care as to establish that the act or omission was the result of actual conscious indifference to the rights, safety, or welfare of the person affected.

In a motion for summary judgment, the party opposing the motion must only create a question about how the law applies to the facts to have the motion denied rather than prove any issues. The city to win on a motion for summary judgment must conclusively negate at least one of the essential elements of the plaintiff’s case to win. Here, the plaintiff’s created a question as to whether the construction of the wall was done in a wilful, wanton or grossly negligent manner.

The next issue was whether the city had notice of the defective condition. The city presented three affidavits from officials saying they had never heard of problems with the wall. However, the court found that knowledge was more than affirmatively not knowing about problems.

The City relies on affidavits from three park officials to show that it lacked actual knowledge of any dangerous condition. The affidavits state that the City had no prior notice of a defect, dangerous condition, or similar accident. However, lack of notice from third parties does not conclusively negate actual knowledge. The fact that the owner or occupier of premises  created a condition that posed an unreasonable risk of harm may support an inference of knowledge.

Knowledge can be anyone in the employee of the city.

In conclusion, the court stated:

The establishment and maintenance of municipal parks are governmental functions under the Texas Tort Claims Act. The City is immune from liability for any claims involving the design of the gabion wall at Hamilton Park. However, the City is not immune from liability for claims based on the construction or maintenance of the wall. The duty owed by the City to park users is the same duty owed by a private person to a licensee.

We hold that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment. There are genuine fact issues concerning (1) gross negligence 5 in the construction and maintenance of the gabion wall, and (2) the failure to warn of or correct a dangerous condition. 6 We sustain the Mitchell’s second and third points of error.

5  The duty owed to a licensees being a duty to refrain from injuring by willful, wanton, or gross negligence.

6  The licensor must also warn of a dangerous condition, or make it reasonably safe, if the licensor has actual knowledge of the condition and the licensee does not have such knowledge.

So Now What?

The most important thing to take away from this decision is the vast differences between state tort claims act. In some states, this same fact situation would not create liability and in some states very few of the state tort claims defenses would work.

Of interest was the issue that the city to be found liable had to be found wilful, wanton or grossly negligent. The decision does not state whether if a jury finds the city was wilful, wanton or grossly negligent if increased damages are available to the plaintiff. Most state tort claims acts specifically deny additional damages.

Also not discussed whether the Texas Recreational Use Statute applied to parks. Since parks are free, many states include state, county and city land in the definition of land protected by recreational use statutes. In most states, this is the first and best defense to claims arising from parks and open space.

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Morgan v. State of Tennessee, 2004 Tenn. App. LEXIS 62

Morgan v. State of Tennessee, 2004 Tenn. App. LEXIS 62

Evelean Morgan v. State of Tennessee

No. M2002-02496-COA-R3-CV

COURT OF APPEALS OF TENNESSEE, AT NASHVILLE

2004 Tenn. App. LEXIS 62

November 3, 2003, Session

January 27, 2004, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1] Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Claims Commission Affirmed. Appeal from the Tennessee Claims Commission No. 99000125 W. R. Baker, Commissioner.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed and remanded.

COUNSEL: David H. Dunaway, LaFollette, Tennessee, for the appellant, Evelean Morgan.

Paul G. Summers, Attorney General and Reporter; Michael E. Moore, Solicitor General; and Christopher Michael Fancher, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

JUDGES: WILLIAM C. KOCH, JR., P.J., M.S., delivered the opinion of the court, in which WILLIAM B. CAIN and PATRICIA J. COTTRELL, JJ., joined.

OPINION BY: WILLIAM C. KOCH, JR., P.J., M.S.

OPINION

This appeal involves a fatal accident at the Colditz Cove State Natural Area in Fentress County. The mother of a woman who fell to her death from the bluff surrounding Northrup Falls filed a claim with the Tennessee Claims Commission. The State of Tennessee denied liability based on (1) the recreational use defense in Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 (1995), (2) its lack of actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition, and (3) its assertion that the decedent’s fault exceeded its own. The commissioner granted the State’s motion for summary judgment. [*2] While he did not rely on the statutory recreational use defense, the commissioner determined that the State had no notice of a dangerous condition at the natural area, it was not reasonably foreseeable that intoxicated persons who were unfamiliar with the natural area would hike into the area of the falls in the middle of the night, and the decedent’s actions were the sole proximate cause of her death. The decedent’s mother has appealed. We have determined that the commissioner properly granted the summary judgment because, as a matter of law, (1) the State established a defense under Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102, (2) the decedent’s estate presented no evidence that the State had actual or constructive notice of an allegedly dangerous condition on the trail in the natural area, and (3) the decedent’s fault far exceeded whatever fault could be attributed to the State.

I.

Rochelle Copeland Zegilla and her two small children were living with her mother in mid-1997 following a separation from her husband. On Saturday evening, July 26, 1997, she told her mother that she was “going to go out for awhile,” and then she drove to the Top of the Mountain Lounge in [*3] Jamestown, Tennessee. After the lounge closed at midnight, Ms. Zegilla and four companions 1 decided to drive to a nearby VFW club. When they arrived at the club, however, they discovered that it had closed earlier than usual. After a brief discussion in the club parking lot, the group decided to continue their drinking and talking in the parking lot of the Colditz Cove State Natural Area.

1 Ms. Zegilla’s companions at the Top of the Mountain Lounge were Chris Smith, Loretta Johnson, Edward Raines, and Larry King.

The Colditz Cove State Natural Area is a 165-acre Class II natural-scientific area in Fentress County owned by the State of Tennessee. It is heavily wooded and contains the 75-foot Northrup Falls and a scenic gorge with interesting rock formations. 2 The area has been designated by statute as “worthy of perpetual preservation,” 3 and accordingly, improvements to the area are limited to foot trails, foot bridges, and primitive campgrounds 4 and “facilities as may be reasonably necessary . . .for [*4] the safe and proper management and protection of the area.” 5 In addition to a parking lot, the State had erected several signs and a gate and had constructed a 1.5 mile foot trail along the bluff overlooking Northrup Falls, as well as a scenic overlook. The State had not installed lights in the parking lot or along the foot trail.

2 Tenn. Code Ann. § 11-14-108(b)(2)(F) (Supp. 2003).

3 Tenn. Code Ann. § 11-14-105(2) (1999).

4 Tenn. Code Ann. § 11-14-106(a)(1)(B) (1999).

5 Tenn. Code Ann. § 11-14-106(a)(2).

All of the group except Mr. Raines had been drinking throughout the evening, and they continued drinking in the parking lot because Messrs. Smith and King had brought along a cooler of beer purchased earlier in the evening at Midway Qwick Stop. After talking for several minutes, the group decided to walk down the foot trail toward Northrup Falls in the pitch dark even though [*5] three of them, including Ms. Zegilla, had never been to Colditz Cove before. The only illumination they had was Mr. King’s flashlight.

When the group reached a fork in the trail, Mr. Raines and Ms. Johnson decided to walk no further and sat near a trash container to talk and drink. Ms. Zegilla and Messrs. Smith and King kept walking along the trail toward Northrup Falls. After they stopped to drink and talk, Mr. King asked Mr. Smith to shine the flashlight into the bushes to enable him to find a place to urinate. Mr. King walked into the bushes and, on his return, he fell over the bluff into the gorge below.

Mr. Smith yelled, “Larry has fallen off,” and called to Mr. Raines for assistance. Mr. Raines made his way down the trail to Mr. Smith and Ms. Zegilla. After they all called out to Mr. King to no avail, Mr. Raines decided to go for help and took the flashlight to help make his way back up the foot path to the parking lot. Ms. Zegilla and Mr. Smith, now joined by Ms. Johnson, continued to call for Mr. King. Mr. Smith decided to start a fire with his shirt to make some light. After his shirt went out, Ms. Zegilla somehow fell over the bluff. The rescue workers who arrived at the [*6] scene at approximately 1:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 27, 1997, found the lifeless bodies of both Mr. King and Ms. Zegilla in the water at the bottom of the falls. An autopsy revealed that Ms. Zegilla’s blood alcohol level was .18%.

On July 23, 1998, Evelean Morgan, Ms. Zegilla’s mother and her personal representative, filed a claim for $ 500,000 with the Tennessee Claims Commission asserting that the State had violated Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C) (Supp. 2003) by negligently creating or maintaining a dangerous condition at Colditz Cove State Natural Area. 6 The State moved to dismiss the claim on the ground that it was shielded from liability by the recreational use statute [Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 70-7-101, -105 (1995)]. After the claims commissioner denied its motion, the State filed an answer denying Ms. Morgan’s negligence claims. The State asserted, as affirmative defenses, (1) that Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 shielded it from liability, (2) that it had no actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition at Colditz Cove State Natural Area and that it was not reasonably foreseeable that intoxicated [*7] persons who were unfamiliar with the natural area would hike into the area of the falls in the middle of the night, and (3) that Ms. Zegilla’s own negligence “contributed in excess of 50% to the cause of her death.”

6 Ms. Morgan also filed a civil damage action in the Circuit Court for Fentress County against Ms. Johnson, Messrs. Smith and Raines, and the estate of Mr. King.

In February 2002, following lengthy and somewhat contentious discovery, the State moved for a summary judgment on two grounds – Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 and its assertion that Ms. Zegilla’s “negligence was equal to or greater than [the] negligence of the State, if any.” 7 In April 2002, Ms. Morgan responded by asserting that the State was not entitled to a judgment on either ground because the State was grossly negligent and because its negligence was greater than Ms. Zegilla’s. The claims commissioner held a hearing on the State’s motion for summary judgment after conducting his own personal inspection of [*8] the Colditz Cove State Natural Area without the lawyers or parties present. On June 5, 2002, the commissioner filed an order granting the State’s motion for summary judgment. While the commissioner declined to base his decision on Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102, he determined that the undisputed evidence demonstrated as a matter of law that Ms. Morgan had not shown that she could prove notice and foreseeability as required by Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C) and that Ms. Zegilla was “preponderantly negligent in her own death.” 8 The commissioner later denied Ms. Morgan’s request for a hearing before the entire claims commission. Ms. Morgan has appealed.

7 The State based the latter assertion on what it called the “step in the dark” rule, i.e., that stepping into an unfamiliar dark area constitutes the proximate cause of injuries sustained by falling down stairs hidden in the darkness. Eaton v. McLain, 891 S.W.2d 587, 594 (Tenn. 1994); Goodman v. Memphis Park Comm’n, 851 S.W.2d 165, 171 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1992).

[*9]

8 We construe this finding to be that Ms. Zegilla’s fault exceeded the fault of the State, if any. The claims commissioner stated later in its order that “the sole proximate cause of Ms. Zegilla’s death was her own actions.”

II.

THE STANDARD OF REVIEW

The standards for reviewing summary judgments on appeal are well-settled. [HN1] Summary judgments are proper in virtually any civil case that can be resolved on the basis of legal issues alone. Fruge v. Doe, 952 S.W.2d 408, 410 (Tenn. 1997); Byrd v. Hall, 847 S.W.2d 208, 210 (Tenn. 1993); Pendleton v. Mills, 73 S.W.3d 115, 121 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001). They are not, however, appropriate when genuine disputes regarding material facts exist. Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.04. Thus, a summary judgment should be granted only when the undisputed facts, and the inferences reasonably drawn from the undisputed facts, support one conclusion – that the party seeking the summary judgment is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Pero’s Steak & Spaghetti House v. Lee, 90 S.W.3d 614, 620 (Tenn. 2002); [*10] Webber v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 49 S.W.3d 265, 269 (Tenn. 2001).

[HN2] The party seeking a summary judgment bears the burden of demonstrating that no genuine dispute of material fact exists and that it is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Godfrey v. Ruiz, 90 S.W.3d 692, 695 (Tenn. 2002); Shadrick v. Coker, 963 S.W.2d 726, 731 (Tenn. 1998). To be entitled to a judgment as a matter of law, the moving party must either affirmatively negate an essential element of the non-moving party’s claim or establish an affirmative defense that conclusively defeats the non-moving party’s claim. Byrd v. Hall, 847 S.W.2d at 215 n. 5; Cherry v. Williams, 36 S.W.3d 78, 82-83 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2000).

[HN3] Once the moving party demonstrates that it has satisfied Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56’s requirements, the non-moving party must demonstrate how these requirements have not been satisfied. Bain v. Wells, 936 S.W.2d 618, 622 (Tenn. 1997). Mere conclusory generalizations will not suffice. Cawood v. Davis, 680 S.W.2d 795, 796-97 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1984). The non-moving party must convince the [*11] trial court that there are sufficient factual disputes to warrant a trial (1) by pointing to evidence either overlooked or ignored by the moving party that creates a factual dispute, (2) by rehabilitating evidence challenged by the moving party, (3) by producing additional evidence that creates a material factual dispute, or (4) by submitting an affidavit in accordance with Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.07 requesting additional time for discovery. McCarley v. West Quality Food Serv., 960 S.W.2d 585, 588 (Tenn. 1998); Byrd v. Hall, 847 S.W.2d at 215 n. 6. A non-moving party who fails to carry its burden faces summary dismissal of the challenged claim because, as our courts have repeatedly observed, the “failure of proof concerning an essential element of the cause of action necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Alexander v. Memphis Individual Practice Ass’n, 870 S.W.2d 278, 280 (Tenn. 1993).

[HN4] A summary judgment is not appropriate when a case’s determinative facts are in dispute. However, for a question of fact to exist, reasonable minds must be able to differ over whether some alleged occurrence or event did or did not happen. Conatser v. Clarksville Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 920 S.W.2d 646, 647 (Tenn. 1995); [*12] Harrison v. Southern Ry. Co., 31 Tenn. App. 377, 387, 215 S.W.2d 31, 35 (1948). If reasonable minds could justifiably reach different conclusions based on the evidence at hand, then a genuine question of fact exists. Louis Dreyfus Corp. v. Austin Co., 868 S.W.2d 649, 656 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1993). If, on the other hand, the evidence and the inferences to be reasonably drawn from the evidence would permit a reasonable person to reach only one conclusion, then there are no material factual disputes and the question can be disposed of as a matter of law. Godfrey v. Ruiz, 90 S.W.3d at 695; Seavers v. Methodist Med. Ctr., 9 S.W.3d 86, 91 (Tenn. 1999); Beaudreau v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 118 S.W.3d 700, 703 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2003).

[HN5] Summary judgments enjoy no presumption of correctness on appeal. BellSouth Advertising & Publ’g Co. v. Johnson, 100 S.W.3d 202, 205 (Tenn. 2003); Scott v. Ashland Healthcare Ctr., Inc., 49 S.W.3d 281, 285 (Tenn. 2001). Accordingly, appellate courts must make a fresh determination that the requirements of Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56 have been satisfied. [*13] Hunter v. Brown, 955 S.W.2d 49, 50-51 (Tenn. 1997). We must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and we must resolve all inferences in the non-moving party’s favor. Godfrey v. Ruiz, 90 S.W.3d at 695; Doe v. HCA Health Servs., Inc., 46 S.W.3d 191, 196 (Tenn. 2001). When reviewing the evidence, we must determine first whether factual disputes exist. If a factual dispute exists, we must then determine whether the fact is material to the claim or defense upon which the summary judgment is predicated and whether the disputed fact creates a genuine issue for trial. Byrd v. Hall, 847 S.W.2d at 214; Rutherford v. Polar Tank Trailer, Inc., 978 S.W.2d 102, 104 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1998).

III.

THE APPLICATION OF TENN. CODE ANN. § 70-7-102

The State’s defense predicated on Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 figures prominently in this appeal even though the claims commissioner expressly declined to base his decision on this defense. 9 For her part, Ms. Morgan asserts that the commissioner erred by “failing and refusing” [*14] to rule on this defense. While the State does not specifically assert that the commissioner erred by not addressing this defense, 10 it asserts that it did not owe a duty to Ms. Zegilla by virtue of Tenn. Code Ann. § 70- 7-102. Accordingly, we have decided to address the applicability of Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 to this case head on.

9 The commissioner’s cryptic rulings regarding Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 are not easy to reconcile. He stated:

The Commission renders its ruling without considering the applicability of the state Recreational Use Immunity Statute. The individuals involved in this incident were using the State property for recreation, thus the Recreational Use Statute applies.

As for gross negligence, if the facts involved the Recreational Use statute alone, in absence of the other three factors discussed heretofore, then this claim should probably proceed to trial. Although the Commission believes there was not any gross negligence, it does not base its conclusion on the Recreational Use Immunity statute.

Because the commissioner stated twice that he was not basing his decision on Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102, we will take him at his word.

[*15]

10 The State could have raised this issue pursuant to Tenn. R. App. P. 13(a).

A.

At common law, property owners could be held liable for injuries to persons who were using their property, with or without their permission, for recreational purposes. Beginning in the 1950s, state legislatures began to enact statutes to limit property owners’ liability when persons were using their property for recreational purposes. 11 The Tennessee General Assembly enacted one of these statutes in 1963. 12 As originally enacted, the statute was applicable only to private landowners and excluded from its coverage the “willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity.”

11 James C. Becker, Landowner or Occupier Liability for Personal Injuries and Recreational Use Statutes: How Effective Is the Protection?, 24 Ind. L. Rev. 1587, 1587-88 (1991).

12 Act of Mar. 15, 1963, ch. 177, 1963 Tenn. Pub. Acts 784, codified at Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 70-7-101, -105 (1995).

[*16] In 1987, the Tennessee General Assembly amended the recreational use statute in two significant ways that are directly applicable to this case. First, it amended the statute to explicitly apply to real property owned by governmental entities. 13 Second, it broadened the exemption to cover “gross negligence, willful or wanton conduct.” 14

13 Act of May 7, 1987, ch. 448, § 8, 1987 Tenn. Pub. Acts 897, 899, codified at Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-101(2)(B).

14 Act of May 7, 1987, ch. 448, § 5, 1987 Tenn. Pub. Acts 897, 898, codified at Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-104(1).

The operation of the recreational use statutes is straightforward. Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 [HN6] is an affirmative defense available to persons who fit within the definition of “landowner” in Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-101(2). Parent v. State, 991 S.W.2d 240, 242 (Tenn. 1999); Bishop v. Beckner, 109 S.W.3d 725, 728 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2002). [*17] Landowners may assert a Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 defense if they prove that the injured person was engaged in a recreational activity 15 at the time of the injury. Plaintiffs may defeat this affirmative defense in essentially three ways: (1) prove that the defendant is not a “landowner,” (2) prove that the injured party was not engaged in a recreational activity, or (3) prove that the landowner’s conduct fits within one of the three exceptions in Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-104. The exceptions in Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-104 do not create new independent causes of action against the landowner. Rather, they enable a plaintiff to pursue its negligence claim by negating a landowner’s Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 defense. Parent v. State, 991 S.W.2d at 242-43.

15 The applicable recreational activities are identified in Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 70-7-102, -103.

[HN7] Applying Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 70-7-101 [*18] , -105 to a particular case requires a three-step analysis. First, the court must determine whether the party asserting the Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 defense is a landowner. Second, the court must determine whether the activity in which the injured party was engaged at the time of the injury is a recreational activity. Third, the court must determine whether any of the exceptions in Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-104 are applicable to the case. See Parent v. State, 991 S.W.2d at 243. If the activity is recreational and no Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-104 exceptions apply, the landowner is shielded from liability by Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102. If, however, the activity is recreational, but one of the exceptions applies, the landowner may be liable.

B.

Based on the undisputed facts, there can be no dispute (1) that the State, as a governmental entity, is a “landowner” under Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-101(2)(B), (2) that Ms. Zegilla was engaged in a recreational activity because she was “hiking” or “sightseeing” when she fell to her death, [*19] and (3) that the land on which Ms. Zegilla was killed was not exempt from coverage of the statute. 16 Thus, the only remaining question with regard to the application of the recreational use statute is whether one of Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-104’s exceptions applies to this case. Ms. Morgan insists that the exception for gross negligence in Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-104(1) applies.

16 Ms. Morgan argued before the claims commissioner that improvements in state natural areas and parks were somehow exempt from Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 70-7-101, -105. However, both the Tennessee Supreme Court and this court have recognized that [HN8] the recreational use statute may apply to state parks and wildlife management areas. Parent v. State, 991 S.W.2d at 241; Rewcastle v. State, 2002 Tenn. App. LEXIS 943, No. E2002-00506-COA-R3-CV, 2002 WL 31926848, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 31, 2002) (No Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application filed).

[HN9] Gross negligence [*20] is negligent conduct reflecting a reckless disregard for the safety of others. Davidson v. Power Bd., 686 S.W.2d 581, 586 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1984); Odum v. Haynes, 494 S.W.2d 795, 807 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1972). It does not require a particular state of mind as long as it creates an extremely unjustified risk to others. 1 DAN B. DOBBS, THE LAW OF TORTS § 147, at 351 (2001). It differs from ordinary negligence only in degree, not in kind. W. PAGE KEETON, PROSSER & KEETON ON THE LAW OF TORTS § 34, at 212 (5th ed. 1984). Thus, gross negligence is a negligent act or failure to act that reflects more than lack of ordinary care (simple negligence) but less than intentional misconduct. Inter-City Trucking Co. v. Daniels, 181 Tenn. 126, 129-30, 178 S.W.2d 756, 757 (1944); Bennett v. Woodard, 60 Tenn. App. 20, 31-32, 444 S.W.2d 89, 94 (1969).

[HN10] Determining whether particular conduct rises to the level of gross negligence is ordinarily a question of fact. 3 STUART M. SPEISER ET AL., THE AMERICAN LAW OF TORTS § 10:05, at 368 (1986) (“SPEISER”); see also Adams v. Roark, 686 S.W.2d 73, 76 (Tenn. 1985) (gross negligence [*21] determined from the facts alleged in the complaint). However, it may be decided as a matter of law when the material facts are not in dispute and when these facts, and the conclusions reasonably drawn from them, would permit a reasonable person to reach only one conclusion. Leatherwood v. Wadley, 121 S.W.3d 682, ___, 2003 WL 327517, at *8-9 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2003) (affirming summary judgment dismissing gross negligence claim); Buckner v. Varner, 793 S.W.2d 939, 941 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1990) (affirming summary judgment dismissing gross negligence claim); Fellows v. Sexton, 46 Tenn. App. 274, 282, 327 S.W.2d 391, 394 (1959) (granting a judgment notwithstanding the verdict on a gross negligence claim).

We find no evidence in this record upon which a reasonable person would conclude that the State was grossly negligent with regard to the construction or maintenance of the Colditz Cove State Natural Area. The State had a statutory obligation to maintain this area in a pristine, natural condition. Erecting warning signs, installing lighting along the trails, fencing the entire area, or installing guard rails, barriers, or other sorts of buffers, [*22] while perhaps appropriate at Dollywood, would have been entirely unwarranted and unnecessary at a natural area such as Colditz Cove. Accordingly, we have determined that the record, as a matter of law, supports the claims commissioner’s conclusion that “there was not any gross negligence.” 17 The State was simply not acting recklessly with disregard of the safety of persons entering the natural area.

17 Ms. Morgan asserts in her brief that “the State of Tennessee knew that at Northrop [sic] Falls . . . there was a cliff that eroded into a commonly used path which suddenly dropped at a ninety degree angle approximately one hundred feet and that it posed a deadly, dangerous condition.” This is the only assertion in her papers that approaches an allegation of gross negligence. We have searched the record for substantiation of this claim and have found none. There is no evidence that any of the trails in Colditz Cove had dangerously eroded on July 26, 1997. There is no evidence that the State had actual or constructive notice of any dangerous erosion along any of the trails in the natural area. There is likewise no evidence that either Ms. Zegilla or Mr. King fell to their deaths at a spot on the trail that had eroded.

[*23] Because the State was not grossly negligent, it was entitled to assert a defense predicated on Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102. Therefore, we have concluded, based on the undisputed facts, that the recreational use statute shields the State from liability for Ms. Zegilla’s death and that the State was entitled to a summary judgment dismissing her claims on this ground alone.

IV.

THE STATE’S LIABILITY UNDER TENN. CODE ANN. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C)

Despite our conclusion that the State has established an affirmative defense under Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 as a matter of law, we will also address Ms. Morgan’s assertion that the claims commissioner erred by concluding that she had failed to demonstrate that she would be able to prove that the State was liable for her daughter’s death under Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C). We have concluded that the undisputed facts also support the commissioner’s conclusion that the State was entitled to a judgment as a matter of law because Ms. Morgan had not demonstrated that she would be able to prove the essential elements of her claim.

[*24] [HN11] The State is not the insurer of the safety of persons on its property. Byrd v. State, 905 S.W.2d 195, 197 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1995). It is, however, liable to these persons to the same extent that private owners and occupiers of land are liable, Sanders v. State, 783 S.W.2d 948, 951 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1989), because Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C) has imposed this common-law duty on the State. Parent v. State, 991 S.W.2d at 242. Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C) provides that the State may be held monetarily liable for

Negligently created or maintained dangerous conditions on state controlled real property. The claimant under this subsection must establish the foreseeability of the risks and notice given to the proper state officials at a time sufficiently prior to the injury for the state to have taken appropriate measures.

Based on this statute, the State, like a private landowner, has a duty to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances to prevent foreseeable injuries to persons on the premises. Eaton v. McLain, 891 S.W.2d at 593-94. This duty is [*25] grounded on the foreseeability of the risk involved. To recover, a claimant must prove that the injury was a reasonably foreseeable probability. Dobson v. State, 23 S.W.3d 324, 331 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1999).

Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C) required Ms. Morgan to prove that Ms. Zegilla was injured in a manner that was reasonably foreseeable and that the State had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition that caused Ms. Zegilla’s death in time to take “appropriate measures.” The claims commissioner properly concluded that she failed on both counts.

The record contains no factual, legal, or policy basis for concluding that the State should have foreseen that intoxicated persons who were unfamiliar with the Colditz Cove State Natural Area would hike down the trail to Northrup Falls in the middle of the night without adequate illumination.

Likewise, the record contains no evidence meeting the standards in Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.04 and Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.06 that the improvements to Colditz Cove are either inherently dangerous 18 or, as we have already pointed out, that the State had actual or constructive notice of any particular [*26] dangerous condition in the natural area that caused Ms. Zegilla’s death.

18 Ms. Morgan’s lawyer asserted in the proceeding below that he had consulted an architect who “felt” that the Colditz Cove State Natural Area was “unduly dangerous” and that “the majority of the defects were certainly foreseeable and could have been rectified at a relatively modest capital investment.” While the record contains an unauthenticated letter from this architect summarizing his impressions of the improvements in the natural area, it does not contain the architect’s affidavit or deposition stating these conclusions. The architect’s letter does not meet the requirements in Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.04 and Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.06 for evidentiary materials that may be used to support or oppose a motion for summary judgment.

V.

COMPARISON OF MS. ZEGILLA’S FAULT WITH THE STATE’S FAULT

As a final issue, Ms. Morgan asserts that the claims commissioner erred by determining that Ms. Zegilla’s fault exceeded the State’s fault. [*27] She bases her argument on the assertion that the State’s “gross negligence” should somehow count for more in a comparative fault analysis. We have determined that this argument has no merit for two reasons. First, we have already concluded that the undisputed facts demonstrate, as a matter of law, that the State was not grossly negligent. Second, even if the States could somehow be considered grossly negligent, its fault would still be compared with Ms. Zegilla’s fault. Conroy v. City of Dickson, 49 S.W.3d 868, 873 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001). A majority of the courts in comparative fault jurisdictions permit gross negligence to be compared to ordinary negligence. 3 SPEISER, § 13:25, at 764; 1 ARTHUR BEST, COMPARATIVE NEGLIGENCE LAW & PRACTICE § 4.40[3] (1999); Restatement (Third) of Torts: Apportionment of Fault § 7 cmt. b (1999).

[HN12] The allocation of fault is ordinarily a question of fact for the jury or the trial court sitting without a jury. Brown v. Wal-Mart Discount Cities, 12 S.W.3d 785, 789 (Tenn. 2000). The task of allocating fault should be taken from the fact-finder only when it can be determined beyond question (or alternatively, when reasonable [*28] minds cannot differ) that the plaintiff’s fault is equal to or greater than the defendant’s. Staples v. CBL & Assocs., Inc., 15 S.W.3d 83, 91-92 (Tenn. 2000); Eaton v. McLain, 891 S.W.2d at 589; Kim v. Boucher, 55 S.W.3d 551, 556-57 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001). The procedural avenues for obtaining a decision that the plaintiff’s fault exceeds the defendant’s as a matter of law are governed by the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. The question may be raised using (1) a motion for summary judgment under Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56, (2) a motion for directed verdict governed by Tenn. R. Civ. P. 50.01, and (3) a post-trial motion for a judgment as a matter of law governed by Tenn. R. Civ. P. 50.02. Henley v. Amacher, 2002 Tenn. App. LEXIS 72, No. M1999-02799-COA-R3-CV, 2002 WL 100402, at *6 (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 28, 2002) (No Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application filed).

Ms. Zegilla’s voluntary intoxication on the evening of July 26, 1997 does not relieve her from the responsibility of her own negligence. Kirksey v. Overton Pub, Inc., 739 S.W.2d 230, 235 (Tenn. 1987); Schwartz v. Johnson, 152 Tenn. 586, 592, 280 S.W. 32, 33 (1926). [*29] She was required to use reasonable care under the circumstances, and her conduct must be measured against the conduct of an ordinary, reasonable person rather than an ordinary and reasonable intoxicated person. Louisville & Nashville R.R. v. Hall, 5 Tenn. Civ. App. 491, 502 (1915). Accordingly, if her conduct while intoxicated was a proximate cause of her death, it may be compared with the fault of the other parties whose fault was also a proximate cause. Worley v. State, 1995 Tenn. App. LEXIS 755, No. 02A01-9312-BC-00267, 1995 WL 702792, at *6 (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 28, 1995) (No Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application filed).

It cannot be reasonably disputed that Ms. Zegilla was intoxicated when she arrived at Colditz Cove State Natural Area after midnight on July 26, 1997. Even though she had never visited the natural area before, she decided to venture into a wooded area down an unfamiliar, rough foot path in the dark. After one of her companions fell to his death, she continued to walk around in the darkness even though she must have known that danger was close at hand. As tragic as her death is, the only conclusion that reasonable persons can draw from these facts is that her fault [*30] far exceeded any fault that may reasonably be attributed to the State. Accordingly, the claims commissioner properly concluded the State was not liable to Ms. Zegilla’s estate because her fault exceeded any fault that could be attributed to the State.

VI.

We affirm the order dismissing the Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C) claim of Ms. Zegilla’s estate against the State and remand the case to the Tennessee Claims Commission for whatever further proceedings may be required. We tax the costs of this appeal to Evelean Morgan for which execution, if necessary, may issue.


Tennessee Recreational Use Statute

Tennessee Recreational Use Statute

Title 70  Wildlife Resources 

Chapter 7  Liability for Activities 

Part 1  Liability of Landowner to Persons Using Land

GO TO THE TENNESSEE ANNOTATED STATUTES ARCHIVE DIRECTORY

Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102  (2014)

70-7-101.  Part definitions.

As used in this part, unless the context otherwise requires:

(1)  (A) “Land” or “premises” means and includes all real property, waters, private ways, trees and any building or structure that might be located on real property, waters and private ways;

(B) “Land” or “premises” includes real property, waters, private ways, trees and any building or structure located on the land or premises, owned by any governmental entity, including, but not limited to, the Tennessee valley authority; and

(C) “Land” or “premises” does not include the landowner’s principal place of residence and any improvements erected for recreational purposes that immediately surround such residence, including, but not limited to, swimming pools, tennis or badminton courts, barbecue or horse shoe pits, jacuzzis, hot tubs or saunas;

(2)  (A) “Landowner” means the legal title holder or owner of such land or premises, or the person entitled to immediate possession of the land or premises, and includes any lessee, occupant or any other person in control of the land or premises; and

(B) “Landowner” includes any governmental entity.

70-7-102.  Landowner’s duty of care.

(a) The landowner, lessee, occupant, or any person in control of land or premises owes no duty of care to keep such land or premises safe for entry or use by others for such recreational activities as hunting, fishing, trapping, camping, water sports, white water rafting, canoeing, hiking, sightseeing, animal riding, bird watching, dog training, boating, caving, fruit and vegetable picking for the participant’s own use, nature and historical studies and research, rock climbing, skeet and trap shooting, skiing, off-road vehicle riding, and cutting or removing wood for the participant’s own use, nor shall such landowner be required to give any warning of hazardous conditions, uses of, structures, or activities on such land or premises to any person entering on such land or premises for such purposes, except as provided in § 70-7-104.

(b) The landowner, lessee, occupant, or any person in control of land or premises owes no duty of care to keep such land or premises safe for entry or use by others for recreational noncommercial aircraft operations or recreational noncommercial ultra light vehicle operations on private airstrips except as to known hazards or defects and except as provided in § 70-7-104.

70-7-103.  Effect of landowner’s permission.

Any landowner, lessee, occupant, or any person in control of the land or premises or such person’s agent who gives permission to another person to hunt, fish, trap, camp, engage in water sports, participate in white water rafting or canoeing, hike, sightsee, ride animals, bird watch, train dogs, boat, cave, pick fruit and vegetables for the participant’s own benefit, engage in nature and historical studies and research, climb rocks, shoot skeet and trap, ski, ride off-road vehicles, recreational noncommercial aircraft operations or recreational noncommercial ultra light vehicle operations on private airstrips, and cut and remove wood for the participant’s own use upon such land or premises does not by giving such permission:

(1) Extend any assurance that the premises are safe for such purpose;

(2) Constitute the person to whom permission has been granted to legal status of an invitee to whom a duty of care is owed; or

(3) Assume responsibility for or incur liability for any injury to such person or purposely caused by any act of such person to whom permission has been granted except as provided in § 70-7-104.

70-7-104.  Conditions under which liability unaffected.

(a) This part does not limit the liability that otherwise exists for:

(1) Gross negligence, willful or wanton conduct that results in a failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity; or

(2) Injury caused by acts of persons to whom permission to hunt, fish, trap, camp, hike, sightsee, cave, recreational noncommercial aircraft operations or recreational noncommercial ultra light vehicle operations on private airstrips, or any other legal purpose was granted, to third persons or to persons to whom the person granting permission, or the landowner, lessee, occupant, or any person in control of the land or premises, owed a duty to keep the land or premises safe or to warn of danger.

(b) Subdivision (a)(1) shall not be construed to impose liability or remove the immunity conferred by § 70-7-102 for failure to guard or warn of a dangerous condition created by forces of nature.

70-7-105.  Waiver of landowner’s duty of care.

Any person eighteen (18) years of age or older entering the land of another for the purpose of camping, fishing, hunting, hiking, dog training, cutting or removing firewood, recreational noncommercial aircraft operations or recreational noncommercial ultra light vehicle operations on private airstrips, for such person’s use for a consideration may waive, in writing, the landowner’s duty of care to such person for injuries that arise from camping, fishing, hunting, hiking, dog training, cutting or removing firewood, recreational noncommercial aircraft operations or recreational noncommercial ultra light vehicle operations on private airstrips for such person’s use, if such waiver does not limit liability for gross negligence, or willful or wanton conduct, or for a failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity.

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Decision explains the liability in New Hampshire of a land owner allowing kids to sled on their land

Reed v. National Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Inc., 2010 DNH 18; 706 F. Supp. 2d 180; 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9236

Decision was a rare case were lawsuit was not brought until after the injured minorHistory of the Boy Scouts of America reached age 18

In this decision, the plaintiff was an 11-year-old Boy Scout a camping trip. During the camp out the trip went sledding on a hill at a local Boy Scout Council camp. The

camp was not owned by a council that was not the chartering council of the scout troop. While sledding, the boys built a jump. Around lunch time the adult leaders left to go prepare lunch leaving the scouts unattended.

The court noted that this was in violation of the Guide to Safe Scouting, a set of procedures developed by the BSA to keep kids safer. (Safer, kids get hurt, it is part of growing up.)

The plaintiff sued the council that owned the camp, Boston Minuteman Council, the landowner and the National Council, BSA. The National Council grants charters to local groups, councils in a specific geographic area to offer the Scouting program to youth in their area. The local council, in this case Daniel Webster Council issued a charter to the group of parents who ran the troop the plaintiff was part of.

The court took note of the fact that neither volunteers scoutmasters nor the local council Daniel Webster Council.

The plaintiff was only 11 and the youngest scout on the camp out. He had watched other scouts go over the jump and fall. He had gone over the jump once when the scoutmaster was present and fell on his back but did not suffer any injuries. After the adult, volunteers left the area the plaintiff went over the jump again breaking his leg.

Summary of the case

The case has two major parts in the decision. The first is the decision over the land owner’s liability. The second is a motion in limine over the future or potential earnings and medical bills of the plaintiff. For the purpose of this article, the second part of the discussion will be ignored because it is not relevant.

The first point of interest in this decision is one sentence. The plaintiff did not sue until after he had turned age 18. Under the law a minor, someone under the age of 18 can sue by and through their parents in most states, any time after their injury, or they can wait until they turn age 18 and sue then. The parental lawsuit has a statute of limitation, in NH two years, because it is an adult suit on behalf of the minor child. The minor child when he reaches the age of majority, 18, then also has two years to sue after turning age 18.

The defendant land owner filed this motion for summary judgment based on the New Hampshire Recreational Use statute and fact the risk was an open and obvious danger.

The New Hampshire recreational use statute protects land owners from lawsuits brought by people who are using the land for free. The exception to the rule is if the injury to the plaintiff was caused intentionally by the land owner.

508:14  Landowner Liability Limited.

I. An owner, occupant, or lessee of land, including the state or any political subdivision, who without charge permits any person to use land for recreational purposes or as a spectator of recreational activity, shall not be liable for personal injury or property damage in the absence of intentionally caused injury or damage.

II. Any individual, corporation, or other nonprofit legal entity, or any individual who performs services for a nonprofit entity, that constructs, maintains, or improves trails for public recreational use shall not be liable for personal injury or property damage in the absence of gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.

III. An owner of land who permits another person to gather the produce of the land under pick-your-own or cut-your-own arrangements, provided said person is not an employee of the landowner and notwithstanding that the person picking or cutting the produce may make remuneration for the produce to the landowner, shall not be liable for personal injury or property damage to any person in the absence of willful, wanton, or reckless conduct by such owner.

The plaintiff argued the defendant land owner should be held liable because only scouts were allowed on the land; therefore, the land was not open to the public, part of the statute. Court held that the statute had latitude or a land owner would lose all control over his or her land. The court held that the landowner could not be held liable because it was protected by the New Hampshire recreational sue statute.

The second defense brought by the landowner was the “open and obvious” defense.

“a defendant generally has no duty to warn and instruct a plaintiff of obvious dangers about which the plaintiff’s knowledge and appreciation equal the defendant’s.”

The “open and obvious” defense is similar to an assumption of risk defense. If you can see or understand the dangerous situation on the land, then the landowner has no duty to warn you of the dangers.

The open and obvious defense requires that the dangerous condition be recognizable by the reasonable person. In the case of a minor the reasonable person test is changed to a reasonable person of the same age, intelligence and experience. A jump created by the other youth would have been obvious to the plaintiff even at age 11. Jumps are made to throw people into the air. Many courts have found that sledding and snowboarding over jumps is something a person of the plaintiff’s age, intelligence and experience should recognize so the court found that the defendant did not owe a duty to warn of the dangers of sledding or snowboarding over a jump.

So Now What?

This is an interesting and odd case. Not suing the local council or the scoutmasters is confusing. Waiting until the plaintiff turned 18 is even more confusing.

However, you can gain a few things from this case.

1.      If you are a volunteer unit leader understand the rules by which the parent organization expects you to operate and do not violate those rules.

2.    If you are a landowner who knows that people use your land for free without charging them for it, do two things.

a.     Make sure your state recreational use statute is broad enough to protect you from litigation.

b.    Make sure your liability policy provides you with coverage for allowing people to use your land.

Please, do NOT stop people from using your land, Please!

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Trinidad v. Capitol Indemnity Corporation, 2009 WI 8; 315 Wis. 2d 324; 759 N.W.2d 586; 2009 Wisc. LEXIS 3

Nelly De La Trinidad, Individually, and as Special Administrator of the Estate of Elizabeth Callejas-De La Trinidad, Deceased, and Victor Leonardo Aguilar-Hernandez, and Luz Maria Torres-Sanches, Individually, and as Special Administrator of the Estate of Marisol Aguilar-Torres, Deceased, Plaintiffs-Appellants-Petitioners, v. Capitol Indemnity Corporation, a Wisconsin Insurance Corporation, Halter Wildlife, Inc., and Rachel Proko, Defendants-Respondents.

No. 2007AP45

SUPREME COURT OF WISCONSIN

2009 WI 8; 315 Wis. 2d 324; 759 N.W.2d 586; 2009 Wisc. LEXIS 3

November 4, 2008, Argued
January 23, 2009, Filed
PRIOR HISTORY:
REVIEW of a decision of the Court of Appeals. COURT: Circuit. COUNTY: Kenosha. JUDGE: David M. Bastianelli. (L.C. No. 2005CV145).
De La Trinidad v. Capitol Indem. Corp., 2008 WI App 36, 308 Wis. 2d 394, 746 N.W.2d 604, 2008 Wisc. App. LEXIS 50 (2008)
DISPOSITION: Affirmed.
COUNSEL: For the plaintiffs-appellants-petitioners there were briefs by Patrick O. Dunphy, Robert D. Crivello, and Cannon & Dunphy, S.C., Brookfield, and oral argument by Robert D. Crivello.
For the defendants-respondents there were briefs by James S. Smith, Wendy G. Gunderson, and Smith, Gunderson & Rowen, S.C., Brookfield, and oral argument by Wendy G. Gunderson.
JUDGES: N. PATRICK CROOKS, J.
OPINION BY: N. PATRICK CROOKS
OPINION

[**327] [***588] [*P1] N. PATRICK CROOKS, J. Petitioners Nelly De La Trinidad, Victor Leonardo Aguilar-Hernandez, and [**328] Luz Maria Torres-Sanches (collectively, De La Trinidad) are the parents of two children who drowned in a pond on the grounds of Halter Wildlife, Inc. De La Trinidad seeks review of an unpublished court of appeals opinion 1 affirming a circuit court order that dismissed their lawsuit against Halter Wildlife, Inc. (Halter); its insurer, Capitol Indemnity Corporation; and lifeguard Rachel Proko, an employee of Halter, on the grounds that the recreational immunity statute 2 applies and bars a suit under these circumstances.

1 Nelly De La Trinidad v. Capitol Indem. Corp., No. 2007AP45, 2008 WI App 36, 308 Wis. 2d 394, 746 N.W.2d 604, unpublished slip op. (Wis. Ct. App. Jan. 23, 2008).
2 Wis. Stat. § 895.52 (2005-06). All subsequent references to the Wisconsin Statutes are to the 2005-06 version unless otherwise indicated.

[*P2] The sole question before us is whether Halter is “an organization or association not organized or conducted for pecuniary profit” under Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(c) and as such entitled to immunity from liability for negligence, as well as for safe place violations, for any deaths occurring during recreational activity on Halter’s land. 3 De La Trinidad contends that Halter cannot be a nonprofit organization for two reasons: first, because it was incorporated in 1984 under the statute that since 1953 has governed for-profit corporations; and second, because it supplemented membership dues with revenues from other [**329] activities–revenues that created a budget surplus or profit which in turn meant dividends for members in the form of dues that were lower than they would otherwise have been. Halter argues that its articles of incorporation show that it was organized as a nonprofit, and its financial records and its status with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) show that it is not conducted for profit and has never paid any dividends.

3 Because the statute also grants immunity to the employees and agents of nonprofit landowners, and because Proko is being sued in her capacity as an employee of Halter, the resolution of this question affects the claims against Proko as well. “[N]o owner and no officer, employee or agent of an owner is liable for the death of, any injury to, or any death or injury caused by, a person engaging in a recreational activity on the owner’s property. . . .” Wis. Stat. § 895.52(2)(b).

[*P3] The recreational immunity statute does not define nonprofits by referencing the chapter under which they were incorporated, either chapter 180 or 181, so that factor is not dispositive of the question. We see no basis in the statute for defining “profit” as broadly as De La Trinidad urges. Halter’s articles of incorporation, tax returns, and financial statements make clear that it was organized and is conducted as a nonprofit organization, a fact recognized by both Wisconsin and the federal government. For these reasons, explained more fully below, Halter is a nonprofit organization as defined by the statute and is thus entitled to immunity.
[*P4] We therefore affirm the decision of the court of appeals.

[***589] I. BACKGROUND
[*P5] Though it filed restated articles of incorporation in 1984 and 1988 which varied in some respects from the original articles, Halter has since its inception consistently defined itself as a nonprofit stock corporation under ch. 180 of the Wisconsin Statutes. These articles and successive restated articles of incorporation were accepted for filing by the secretary of state. The current articles of incorporation describe Halter as a [**330] hunt and sportsman club with the purpose of promoting wetlands preservation and environmental education.
Its regulations allow its approximately 275 dues-paying members to invite guests 4 to events held on the club’s grounds, which include a clubhouse, a picnic area, a ball park, and a beach and pond used for fishing and swimming. In addition to annual membership dues, Halter collects extra fees from members who host picnics and other events to which guests are invited.

4 The general public does not have access to Halter’s facilities; only club members and their guests may be on the property. Payment of invoices or statements is required under the organization’s regulations to be made by a member’s check.

[*P6] It was at one such event, a company picnic hosted on July 13, 2002, by Finishing and Plating Services (FPS) of Kenosha, 5 that the tragic drownings of the two children occurred.

5 The picnic guests were not charged admission; in keeping with Halter’s regulations, FPS, which held a corporate membership with Halter, paid the invoice for the picnic.

[*P7] De La Trinidad filed this lawsuit, alleging negligence and safe place violations by Halter, and negligence by Proko. The Kenosha County Circuit Court, the Honorable David Bastianelli presiding, granted summary judgment for the defendants. The circuit court noted that despite Halter’s organization under ch. 180 6 as a nonprofit stock corporation, all of the documentation of its existence, from its articles of incorporation to its tax returns, supported the conclusion that it was organized as a nonprofit. The circuit [**331] court also concluded that under the statute’s definition, Halter’s fund-raising activities did not make it a for-profit corporation, noting that the record showed no distributions of profits or earnings to members. The court of appeals affirmed, pointing out that the recreational immunity statute does not define nonprofit with reference to the chapter under which the organization is incorporated. The court of appeals also found that Halter’s nonprofit status turned not on how funds were generated, but rather on how they were used. It noted, “[M]ost importantly, Halter is not organized to distribute profits to anyone, and it does not do so.” Nelly De La Trinidad v. Capitol Indem. Corp., No. 2007AP45, 2008 WI App 36, 308 Wis. 2d 394, 746 N.W.2d 604, unpublished slip op., P15 (Wis. Ct. App. Jan. 23, 2008). For those reasons it affirmed the circuit court. De La Trinidad petitioned this court for review, and on May 13, 2008, review was granted.
6 The present version of ch. 180 of the Wisconsin Statutes governs “Business Corporations,” which include those issuing stock. Wis. Stat. § 180.0103(5). The present version of ch. 181 governs “Nonstock Corporations,” which are defined as including nonprofit corporations. Wis. Stat. § 181.0103(5).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
[*P8] [HN1] The application of a statute to undisputed facts is reviewed de novo. Wis. Dep’t of Revenue v. Menasha Corp., 2008 WI 88, P44, 311 Wis. 2d. 579, 754 N.W.2d 95.

[***590] III. DISCUSSION
[*P9] The question we address is whether Halter was a nonprofit organization under the recreational immunity statute 7 and is therefore entitled to immunity [**332] from liability for negligence, as well as for the claimed safe place violations. [HN2] Nonprofit organizations are among the types of property owners to whom immunity is extended under the statute. 8 7 Wisconsin Stat. § 895.52(2):

[HN3] No duty; immunity from liability. (a) Except as provided in subs. (3) to (6), no owner and no officer, employee or agent of an owner owes to any person who enters the owner’s property to engage in a recreational activity:

1. A duty to keep the property safe for recreational activities.
2. A duty to inspect the property, except as provided under s. 23.115(2).
3. A duty to give warning of an unsafe condition, use or activity on the property.

(b) Except as provided in subs. (3) to (6), no owner and no officer, employee or agent of an owner is liable for the death of, any injury to, or any death or injury caused by, a person engaging in a recreational activity on the owner’s property . . . .

Subsections (3) to (6) do not apply in this case. They deal with government property, malicious acts, and private property owners who collect fees for recreational use of the land in excess of $ 2,000 per year.
There is no dispute here either as to the ownership of the land or as to the recreational nature of the activity.
8 Wisconsin Stat. § 895.52(1), (c) and (d):

[HN4] (c) “Nonprofit organization” means an organization or association not organized or conducted for pecuniary profit.

(d) “Owner” means either of the following:

1. A person, including a governmental body or nonprofit organization, that owns, leases or occupies property. . . .

[*P10] We begin of course with [HN5] the statute’s definition of a nonprofit organization as “an organization or association not organized or conducted for pecuniary profit.” Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(c). We address each prong in turn: how Halter is organized and how it is conducted. 9

9 Wisconsin Stat. § 895.52(1)(c) uses the wording “not organized or conducted for pecuniary profit,” which can be read as intending to mean both prongs would have to be met (as in, “neither organized nor conducted for pecuniary profit”) or as intending to mean that at least one prong would have to be met (as in, “not organized or not conducted for pecuniary profit”).

Yet, in Szarzynski, this court has called the language “clear on its face and capable of one simple construction–that the organizations that are organized and/or conducted for purposes other than profit-making are eligible for recreational immunity under the statute.” Szarzynski v. YMCA, 184 Wis. 2d 875, 890, 517 N.W.2d 135 (1994). Neither party argues that Wis. Stat. § 895.52(1)(c) may be interpreted in the conjunctive or disjunctive, and it is not necessary for us to consider the question here. Halter does not argue that because it was either organized or conducted as a nonprofit, it was entitled to immunity. Rather, it argues that it met both requirements. We recognize that the “and/or” construction often can be problematic. See, e.g., Wisconsin Bill Drafting Manual § 2.01(9)(a) (2009-10) (“Never use the compound ‘and/or.’ ‘And’ is conjunctive and ‘or’ is disjunctive; decide whether you mean ‘and’ or ‘or’ and use the proper word.”).
[**333] A. “Not organized . . . for pecuniary profit”

[*P11] De La Trinidad’s contention that Halter is organized for pecuniary profit centers on the fact that, as Halter’s restated articles of incorporation provide, it is organized as a stock-issuing corporation “pursuant to the authority and provisions of Chapter 180 of the Wisconsin Statutes.” De La Trinidad contends that this means it is by definition a for-profit–or at best a corporation masquerading as a nonprofit while reserving the legal right to convert to for-profit whenever it chooses–regardless of what its articles of incorporation currently say.

[***591] [*P12] Halter argues that the question of whether it is organized for pecuniary profit is answered by the statement of purpose in its articles of incorporation: “The corporation will be a non-profit corporation which is to be formed not for private profit but exclusively for educational, benevolent, fraternal, social and athletic [**334] purposes within the meaning of Section 501(c)(7) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 . . . .” The articles of incorporation, Halter argues, are consistent with its status with the federal and state governments: the Department of the Treasury granted it tax exempt status under § 501(c)(7) of the Internal Revenue Code, and the state Department of Financial Institutions has confirmed that it has operated since its inception as a nonprofit. Halter points to our decision in Szarzynski v. YMCA, 184 Wis. 2d 875, 890, 517 N.W.2d 135 (1994), in which we cited the definition provided in Black’s Law Dictionary for the term “nonprofit corporation.” That definition made explicit reference to the federal tax code 10 and included corporations “no part of the income of which is distributable to its members, directors or officers.” Id. at 890 (quoting Black’s Law Dictionary 1056 (6th ed. 1990)). Because it distributes no income to members, directors or officers and because it is a nonprofit for purposes of federal taxation, Halter argues that it is organized as a nonprofit.

10 In fact, part of the dictionary’s definition of “nonprofit corporation” not quoted in Szarzynski refers readers to I.R.C. § 501(c) “for a list of exempt organizations.” Black’s Law Dictionary 1056 (6th ed. 1990). The clear inference from that definition is that it intends to define all § 501(c) organizations as nonprofit corporations.

[*P13] A brief summary of the history of chapters 180 and 181 will help make sense of the parties’ arguments. Prior to 1953, it was not unusual for Wisconsin organizations to be incorporated as nonprofit stock corporations under ch. 180. There was a change in the statute, however, that took effect that year and remained in effect at the time of Halter’s incorporation, and it is not entirely clear whether by that change, the legislature intended to continue to permit nonprofit [**335] stock organizations under ch. 180. De La Trinidad relies on a 1958 opinion of the attorney general that examined the statute and concluded otherwise: “[A] nonprofit stock corporation cannot be lawfully organized under ch. 180 subsequent to July 1, 1953 . . . .” 47 Wis. Op. Att’y Gen. 78, 81 (1958).

[*P14] As even that attorney general’s opinion acknowledged, however, it is difficult to reconcile several provisions of the statute. 11 One provision, for example, defines “corporation” as including “a corporation with capital stock but not organized for profit.” Wis. Stat. § 180.02(1) (1957). Another appears to contemplate nonprofits organized under ch. 180 even after 1953: “After June 30, 1953 ch. 180 shall apply to all domestic corporations with capital stock, regardless of when they were organized and whether for profit or not . . . .” Wis. Stat. § 180.97(1) (1957) (emphasis added). However, that same section contains a provision that refers only to nonprofits formed prior to 1953, and is silent as to nonprofits formed thereafter: “any domestic corporation with capital stock but not organized for profit which has before July 1, 1953, been organized under the general corporation laws . . . shall be subject to ch. 180 only to the extent that the provisions of ch. 180 are not inconsistent [***592] with the articles or form of organization of such corporation . . . .” Id. (emphasis added).

11 The opinion noted, “It would have been much more explicit if the legislature had stated plainly that no stock nonprofit corporations are to be organized under ch. 180 after July 1, 1953.” 47 Wis. Op. Att’y Gen. 78, 81 (1958).

[*P15] The attorney general’s 1958 opinion in response to a query from the secretary of state acknowledged that the statute “does say that there can be such a thing as a corporation with capital stock but not [**336] organized for profit.” 47 Wis. Op. Att’y Gen. at 80. The opinion also said Wis. Stat. § 180.97(1) “leaves the door wide open for nonprofit stock corporations” because the language in that section is “about as all-embracing as human draftsmanship can devise.” Id. Nevertheless, in light of an absence of any language in Wis. Stat. § 180.97(1) (1957) about post-1953 stock nonprofits, the attorney general advised that absent explicit statutory authority, the secretary of state “would be justified in finding that the proposed articles [for a nonprofit stock] do not conform to law.” Id. at 81.

[*P16] De La Trinidad urges us to adopt the reasoning of that attorney general’s opinion and reach the same conclusion concerning Halter’s articles of incorporation. Of course, we are not bound to do so. [HN6] “‘An Attorney General’s opinion is only entitled to such persuasive effect as the court deems the opinion warrants.'” State v. Gilbert, 115 Wis. 2d 371, 380, 340 N.W.2d 511 (1983) (quoting Hahner v. Bd. of Educ., 89 Wis. 2d 180, 192, 278 N.W.2d 474 (Ct. App. 1979)). In this case, the opinion does not warrant great persuasive effect; it candidly acknowledges broad language in the statute, for example, that leads to the opposite conclusion. However, even if the attorney general’s opinion was correct as to ch. 180 nonprofits, it merely concluded that the secretary of state “would be justified” in rejecting articles of incorporation for such an organization. 12

12 Even if the secretary of state erred in permitting a nonprofit to organize under ch. 180 rather than requiring it to organize under ch. 181, it does not follow that such an error alone would convert Halter into a for-profit organization. The court of appeals accordingly held that “whether Halter’s form of organization is lawful or not is not the issue in this case.” De La Trinidad, No. 2007AP45, 2008 WI App 36,, 746 N.W.2d 604, unpublished slip op., P8. We agree.

[**337] [*P17] Which brings us to a key point: notwithstanding the attorney general’s opinion on the matter, there is no dispute that the secretary of state did accept and file Halter’s articles of incorporation and restated articles of incorporation. Three times. From the repeated filing and acceptance it is reasonable to infer that the acceptance was intentional and that the secretary of state saw no legal impediment to Halter’s incorporation as a nonprofit under ch. 180. 13 [HN7] Under Wis. Stat. § 180.0203(2), filing of the articles of incorporation by the DFI “is conclusive proof that the corporation is incorporated under this chapter . . . .”

13 It is clear that a different policy was in effect in 1958 in the secretary of state’s office; the attorney general’s opinion from that year makes reference to the fact that the office at that time was “refus[ing] to accept such articles for filing[.]” 47 Wis. Op. Att’y Gen. at 79.

[*P18] That the State of Wisconsin accepted Halter’s incorporation on those terms is verified by the certified document from the secretary of state that confirmed the filing in 1988. It is also confirmed by a 2005 letter from the DFI, which, in response to a letter from Halter about the organization’s status and designation on the DFI online database, stated:

Regarding your written request involving the corporate status of Halter Wildlife, Inc. I have examined the records for this corporation and have determined [***593] that you are correct in that this entity has, since its inception, been a “stock, not-for-profit corporation.[“] Unfortunately, when our database was created we did not set forth a specific “status code” for “stock, not-for-profit” entities. Therefore, although it is a not-for-profit entity, it was included with all other corporations formed [**338] under Chapter 180 having a status code of “01” which reflects the entity as a business corporation on our records. [Emphasis added.]

[*P19] A second, related argument made by De La Trinidad is that an organization formed under ch. 180 cannot be a nonprofit because there is nothing in the law governing it that prevents Halter’s members from voting to amend its articles and becoming a for-profit corporation. De La Trinidad notes that Halter’s articles of incorporation allow the organization to “engage in lawful activity within the purposes for which corporations may be organized under the Wisconsin Business Corporation Law.” Because it was organized under ch. 180, which allows for the distribution of profits to shareholders under Wis. Stat. § 180.0640, De La Trinidad argues that Halter left open the possibility of distributions to shareholders.

[*P20] De La Trinidad cites language from two cases from other jurisdictions in support of the proposition that the mere potential for for-profit conduct should preclude defining Halter as a nonprofit. Both involve organizations that unsuccessfully sought tax exemption by claiming to be nonprofit organizations. Ukranian National Urban Renewal Corp. v. Director, Division of Taxation, 3 N.J. Tax 326 (1981), is easy to distinguish, however, from this case; it turned on the fact that “[t]he organizational focus of this tax exemption statute is on the statute pursuant to which the taxpayer was organized and whether stock was authorized.” Id. at 331 (emphasis added). In other words, the statute at issue there defined a nonprofit in exactly the way the recreational immunity statute does not: pursuant to the statute under which the property owner is organized. The second case, Produce Exchange Stock [**339] Clearing Association, Inc. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 27 B.T.A. 1214, 1219 (1933), is cited for the proposition that a corporation cannot use the fact that dividends have never been paid to claim nonprofit status, when it has retained a legal ability to do so. The case concerned whether the plaintiff was tax-exempt under a statute exempting “business leagues,” which functioned like chambers of commerce. Thus, the central determination was that the plaintiff did not meet the statutory definition of a business league and was therefore not tax-exempt. The language cited by De La Trinidad was an afterthought. (“Although up to the present time the petitioner has not paid any dividends to its stockholder, the New York Produce Exchange, there appears to be no reason under the law why it could not amend its by-laws and pay dividends to its sole stockholder.” Id. at 1219.) Further, on appeal, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals limited its ruling solely to the “business league” question and expressly declined to reach the remainder of the questions. See Produce Exch. Stock Clearing Ass’n, Inc. v. Helvering, 71 F.2d 142, 144 (2d Cir. 1934). In short, for the reasons noted, neither of these cases are as persuasive as De La Trinidad argues.

[*P21] While the “potential for profit” argument may have some merit, it is essentially an argument that it is not good public policy to provide immunity under Wis. Stat. § 895.52 to a nonprofit corporation that has, by incorporating under ch. 180, left open legal avenues for a later change to a for-profit corporation. In other words, it can be argued that the better policy is for the benefits afforded to nonprofits [***594] under the statute to accrue only to those nonprofits that are, by virtue of their incorporation under ch. 181, committed to staying a nonprofit. It is significant, however, that the legislature [**340] did not choose to define nonprofits in Wis. Stat. § 895.52 with reference to the statute under which they were incorporated. 14

14 We note that in some other cases, the legislature has defined nonprofit organization in those terms. See, e.g., Wis. Stat. § 26.40(1c) (referencing “a nonprofit corporation, as defined in s. 181.0103(17)”).
[*P22] Having established that incorporation under ch. 180 does not preclude Halter from being organized as a nonprofit, we arrive at the question of what makes a nonprofit a nonprofit. A leading treatise says the articles of incorporation are the place to focus, and it bolsters our view that the chapter under which Halter is organized is not dispositive here (note especially the second sentence):

[HN8] In order to determine the purpose for which a corporation was created, courts will primarily refer to the stated purpose in the articles of incorporation. . . . A recitation in the articles of incorporation that an organization is organized under a particular statute is not dispositive of the nature of the organization; instead, a corporation’s statement of purpose in its articles determines the corporation’s true nature.

1A Carol A. Jones & Britta M. Larsen, Fletcher Cyclopedia of the Law of Private Corporations § 139 (citing State v. Delano Cmty. Dev. Corp., 571 N.W.2d 233 (Minn. 1997)).

[*P23] We thus turn to the substantive provisions of Halter’s restated articles of incorporation, and we see they:

– explicitly define Halter as a nonprofit;
[**341] forbid income to inure to the benefit of any trustee, director or officer;
– forbid dividends or distributions to be made to stockholders or members;
– limit Halter to activities permissible to a particular type of nonprofit, § 501(c)(7) organizations; and
– provide for its assets to be turned over to a public body or another nonprofit in the event of its dissolution.

[*P24] As noted above, this court has said that [HN9] organizations that are organized “for purposes other than profit-making” are eligible for recreational immunity under the statute. Szarzynski, 184 Wis. 2d at 890.
[*P25] The most recent restated articles of incorporation for Halter are those filed with the Office of the Secretary of State in 1988. 15 They were the documents in effect at the time of the drownings in 2002. They state in part:

[**342] [***595] The purpose of this corporation is to engage in lawful activity within the purposes for which corporations may be organized under the Wisconsin Business Corporations Law. The corporation will be a non-profit corporation which is to be formed not for private profit but exclusively for educational, benevolent, fraternal, social and athletic purposes within the meaning of Section 501(c)(7) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 and in this connection, to promote a hunt and sportsman club, to preserve the environment in its natural setting and to promote education of citizens and youth as to the need to conserve and retain wetlands and adjacent uplands in a natural state . . . .

15 We take judicial notice of the 1988 Restated Articles of Incorporation as we are authorized to do [HN10] under Wis. Stat § 902.01(2)(b), which provides that “A judicially noticed fact must be . . . [a] fact capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.” Wis. Stat. § 902.01(3) and (6) provide “[a] judge or court may take judicial notice, whether requested or not[]” and “[j]udicial notice may be taken at any stage of the proceeding.” See Gupton v. City of Wauwatosa, 9 Wis. 2d 217, 101 N.W.2d 104 (1960) (taking judicial notice of articles of incorporation recorded in the office of the secretary of state). The briefs filed with this court quoted the 1984 version and the record included only 1984 versions of the articles of incorporation. The 1988 articles of incorporation were not included despite the fact that references were made to them in documents in the record (e.g., in a letter attached to an affidavit filed by respondents and in a brief filed with the circuit court by De La Trinidad). This error was not cleared up until after oral arguments. Because the 1988 articles of incorporation are the relevant articles, there is no need to address the earlier versions.

[*P26] Additional relevant provisions reiterate the nonprofit nature of the organization:

ARTICLE IV: The corporation has not been formed for pecuniary profit or financial gain, and no part of the assets, income or profit of the corporation is distributable to, or inures to the benefit of, its officers or directors, except to the extent permitted under Wisconsin law. . . . Notwithstanding any other provision of this certificate, the corporation shall not carry on any other activities not permitted to be carried on by a corporation exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(c)(7) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, (or the corresponding provisions of any future United States Internal Revenue law).

. . . .

ARTICLE VIII: No part of the income of the corporation shall inure to the benefit of any trustee, director or officer of the corporation, except that reasonable compensation may be paid for services rendered to or for the corporation affecting one or more of its purposes. In the event of liquidation of the assets of the corporation [**343] any assets available for distribution at the time of such liquidation shall be turned over to an educational, benevolent, fraternal, social, scientific, religious or athletic association within the meaning of Section 501(c)(7) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, or to a public body. Furthermore, no dividends or distributions shall be made to stockholders or members of the corporation during its existence and that upon its liquidation the stockholders or members may receive back no more than their original investment.

(Emphasis added.)

[*P27] The language of the articles of incorporation is clear. It directly prohibits distributions to members, trustees, directors and officers, and covers the liquidation of the organization’s assets at dissolution. De La Trinidad asserts, rather incredibly, that the articles of incorporation are irrelevant to the determination of whether Halter was organized for profit. We cannot agree. It is clear beyond any doubt that Halter’s relevant organizing documents establish an organization with a purpose other than profit-making. As to De La Trinidad’s argument about Halter’s ability under ch. 180 to amend the articles, that ability would become relevant only at the point the organization chose to do so. The immunity extended to nonprofit organizations under Wis. Stat. § 895.52, in other words, continues to extend to Halter unless it amends its articles to allow for a purpose of achieving pecuniary profit.

B. “Not . . . conducted for pecuniary profit”

[*P28] De La Trinidad’s second argument, that Halter does not qualify for immunity under the statute because it is conducted for pecuniary profit, depends on a sort of “penny saved is a penny earned” definition of [**344] profit. This argument is [***596] based on the fact that Halter operated in the black, taking in more revenues than it required for operating expenses; the fact that not all the revenue was from membership dues; and the fact that the income of the organization was therefore distributed, albeit indirectly, to the members, just as if dividends had been paid. This is because those additional fees ultimately reduce the membership dues, De La Trinidad argues; the difference between what the dues are and what they would be without the additional revenues is, according to this argument, the individual member’s dividend.

[*P29] Halter argues that profits from picnics do not affect its immunity because they were returned to the organization, not distributed to members. The relevant inquiry, Halter argues, is whether it made distributions to directors, officers, or members, and its financial statements and tax returns make clear that it never has done so. Halter further points out that De La Trinidad’s approach, limiting nonprofit status to those organizations operating at a deficit, is unworkable and undesirable.

[*P30] De La Trinidad’s arguments rest on broad definitions of the terms “profit” and “distribution.” In support of its position, De La Trinidad cites language from State ex rel. Troy v. Lumbermen’s Clinic, 186 Wash. 384, 58 P.2d 812 (Wash. 1936), a case having to do with a corporation that the state believed had falsely incorporated as a nonprofit while operating as a for-profit. In finding for the state, the court there defined profit thus: “Profit does not necessarily mean a direct return by way of dividends, interest, capital account, or salaries. . . . [I]n considering . . . the question of whether or not respondent is or is not operated for profit, money saved is money earned.” Id. at 816. This holding is at quite a [**345] variance from a standard legal definition of “profit,” as found in Black’s Law Dictionary: “The excess of revenues over expenditures in a business transaction; GAIN (2). Cf. EARNINGS; INCOME.” Black’s Law Dictionary 1246 (8th ed. 2004). There is nothing in the statute that would support such an expansive definition of the word “profit.” 16

16 [HN11] “When giving a statute its plain and ordinary meaning, courts refer to dictionaries to define those terms not defined by the legislature. Wisconsin Stat. § 990.01(1) provides that ‘[a]ll words and phrases shall be construed according to common and approved usage; but technical words and phrases and others that have a peculiar meaning in the law shall be construed according to such meaning.'” Rouse v. Theda Clark Med. Ctr., Inc., 2007 WI 87, P21, 302 Wis. 2d 358, 735 N.W.2d 30 (citation omitted).

[*P31] De La Trinidad also relies on St. John’s Military Academy v. Larson, 168 Wis. 357, 170 N.W. 269 (1919), for the proposition that when an organization operates in the black, it “materially enhance[s] the value of its capital stock, resulting in a pecuniary profit to the shareholders.” Id. at 361. As the underlying facts of the case make clear, it was not the indirect enhancement of the stock that made St. John’s Military Academy a for-profit organization; it was the fact that it was organized as a profit-sharing corporation and had in two prior years declared a dividend on its stock.

[*P32] De La Trinidad’s arguments are unavailing. To adopt them would, with the stroke of a pen, convert innumerable nonprofits in Wisconsin to for-profit enterprises by virtue of the fact that their bills are paid and they have money in the bank. Such a rule would operate to strip any solvent § 501(c)(7) organization of its nonprofit status. In fact, neither case compels the outcome that De La Trinidad seeks. First, St. John’s is [**346] a case about a for-profit organization in the first place. In St. John’s this court noted that the school’s [***597] “articles of incorporation show that it is organized to conduct a private enterprise upon the plan of a profit-sharing corporation . . . .” St. John’s, 168 Wis. 2d at 361. Further, the case shows that “in 1900 and 1901 it declared a small dividend on its stock.” Id. at 360. In contrast, Halter’s articles of incorporation explicitly describe the organization as a non-profit, and there is no allegation that cash distributions have ever been made to members.

[*P33] De La Trinidad’s “indirect benefits” argument is unsupported by Wisconsin case law. [HN12] So long as no profits are distributed to members, the fact that members may obtain other benefits from an organization is no bar to its nonprofit status. That this is the law in Wisconsin is made clear from a reading of Bethke v. Lauderdale of La Crosse, Inc., 2000 WI App 107, P13, 235 Wis. 2d 103, 612 N.W.2d 332. In Bethke, the plaintiff challenged the condo association’s status as a nonprofit organization and its entitlement to immunity under the recreational immunity statute. The basis for the challenge was, among other things, that the statute was unconstitutional when it protected property owners who were nonprofit organizations that further no charitable purposes. There the sole purpose for the revenues raised (in that case, monthly fees from each member) was “to provide for the maintenance, preservation and control of the common area [of the condo].” Id. The court found no bar in the statute for the benefits that accrued to the members, and, consistent with the reasoning in Bethke, we see none here.

[*P34] As the court of appeals observed when it decided the case before us, “even nonpublic-service-oriented [**347] nonprofits receive nonprofit immunity under the statute. . . . Bethke specifically rejected the argument that a nonprofit must [] be charitable to claim the benefit of recreational immunity. In Bethke . . . the defendant was a condominium association, and its revenues were presumably used solely for the benefit of the few people who happened to live in the condominium development.” De La Trinidad, No. 2007AP45, 2008 WI App 36, 308 Wis. 2d 394; 746 N.W.2d 604, unpublished slip op., P14 (citations omitted).

[*P35] Contrary to De La Trinidad’s assertions, there is substantial evidence of Halter’s being conducted as a nonprofit. Halter is recognized by the IRS as a § 501(c)(7) nonprofit organization; 17 documents from the IRS in the record confirm that Halter qualifies as a tax-exempt organization under the Internal Revenue Code. The record also contains Halter’s 2002 IRS Form 990, Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax, in which Halter identifies itself as a § 501(c)(7) organization. A letter from the IRS dated November 23, 1990, states that Halter’s “organization continues to qualify for exemption from Federal income tax” under § 501(c)(7).

17 The Internal Revenue Code exempts from taxation “[c]lubs organized for pleasure, recreation, and other nonprofitable purposes, substantially all of the activities of which are for such purposes and no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder.” I.R.C. § 501(c)(7) (2006).

[*P36] There is no indication in the record that Halter brings in revenues from outside of its membership though it could do so under IRS guidelines without forfeiting its nonprofit status. 18 The record includes [**348] [***598] regulations from Halter that show that it requires all invoices to be paid by member checks. Deposition testimony in the record is clear that the attendees at the picnic giving rise to this action were not charged for the picnic; a Halter member, FPS of Kenosha, paid the invoice.

18 According to an official IRS publication, “A section 501(c)7 organization may receive up to 35% of its gross receipts, including investment income, from sources outside of its membership without losing its tax-exempt status. Of the 35%, up to 15% of the gross receipts may be derived from the use of the club’s facilities or services by the general public or from other activities not furthering social or recreational purposes for members.” IRS Publication 557 at 49 (Rev. June 2008).

[*P37] A law review author described the standard controlling inquiry for nonprofits:

[HN13] The defining characteristic of a nonprofit corporation is that it is barred from distributing profits, or net earnings, to . . . its directors, officers or members. That does not mean that it is prohibited from earning a profit. Rather, it is only the distribution of those earnings as dividends that is prohibited.

Jane C. Schlicht, Piercing the Nonprofit Corporate Veil, 66 Marq. L. Rev. 134, 136 (1982) (internal quotations omitted).

[*P38] The record is replete with evidence that supports Halter’s 27-year existence as a nonprofit. It would be an absurd result if we were to read the recreational immunity statute as making a for-profit organization out of an organization that throughout its existence has been governed by articles of incorporation that define it as a nonprofit, has been documented by state agencies as a nonprofit, and has been in compliance with IRS regulations as a nonprofit. Like the circuit court and court of appeals, we see no failure on Halter’s part to meet the requirements necessary to be a nonprofit and thus to be entitled to immunity here.

[**349] IV. CONCLUSION
[*P39] The recreational immunity statute does not define nonprofits by referencing the chapter under which they were incorporated, either chapter 180 or 181, so that factor is not dispositive of the question. We see no basis in the statute for defining “profit” as broadly as De La Trinidad urges. Halter’s articles of incorporation, tax returns, and financial statements make clear that it was organized and is conducted as a nonprofit organization, a fact recognized by both Wisconsin and the federal government. For these reasons, Halter is a nonprofit organization as defined by the statute and is thus entitled to immunity.

[*P40] We therefore affirm the decision of the court of appeals.

By the Court.–The decision of the court of appeals is affirmed.

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