Memorial Day is fast approaching, and with it comes the unofficial start of summer.
For the average Ohioan, it’s time to start thinking about all those warm weather activities like swimming, boating, hiking and baseball. But for us personal injury lawyers, it’s time to start thinking about all the injuries that people suffer as a result of recreational activities.
Suppose you get permission from Mr. Smith to use his pond to go swimming. You dive into a spot that has always been safe before, but this time someone has dumped an old barrel into the water. You hit your head and seriously injure yourself. Can you sue Mr. Smith for not keeping the pond safe for swimmers?
Or suppose you are sitting in the bleachers, watching your kids play baseball at the park. As you get up to leave, a floorboard breaks, and your leg goes right through. Is the Parks Department liable for failing to maintain its facilities?
In Ohio, the answer is almost always “No.” Ohio has a statute that relieves a property owner (or renter) from any responsibility for injuries arising out of the recreational use of the property.
According to the Recreational Use Statute, if you are going to use someone’s property for a recreational activity, you do so at your own risk. The statute grants the property owner immunity from any claim by recreational users of the property:
- The owner has no duty to keep the property safe for your entry or use.
- The fact that the owner allows you to use the property is not a guaranty that the property is safe.
- And the owner is not liable for any injury or property damage that you suffer.
- This includes injuries to you that are caused by another recreational user of the property.
The statute covers pretty much any area that you might use for recreation. It applies to all privately owned land and to all publicly owned land that is leased to a private person or organization. This includes any buildings on the land and also includes lakes, rivers and other waterways.
Although the statute does not actually say that it applies to public parks or other public recreation areas, the Ohio Supreme Court has a very broad interpretation of the statute. If the government would have the same liability as a private person, the statute applies. So if you are injured while jogging in the MetroParks, the government is immune from liability.
The statute also cover almost any activity you can think of, as long as you are doing it for fun. The statute specifically includes hunting, fishing, camping, hiking and swimming, but it also applies to “other recreational pursuit.” This can include riding a bicycle, playing sports, or even sitting under a tree reading.
In fact, one court held that the statute applied to driving a car through the park, because as the driver was going home after a recreational activity.
There are a few limits to the Recreational Use Statute, though. It does not apply to private recreation areas that charge a fee for admission or use. Accidents at Cedar Park, for example, are not covered by the statute.
The statute also does not apply to residential premises. There is no immunity for injuries that occur from such things as apartment swimming pools or backyard swing sets. Individuals can still be sued for injuries caused by dangers and defects on their own residential property.
So, homeowners, when you’re planning that big Memorial Day cookout, you might want to consider having your party at the public park. That way, you’ll only be liable for the burned hamburgers.
Have a question or a suggestion for a topic? Email dspirgen@SpirgenLawFirm.com.
Patch posts are general discussions and should not be used as advice on any specific legal matter. If you need legal advice on a particular situation, please consult an attorney.