Defenses to Liability for Injuries on Public Lands
Sometimes, public entities are not liable for injuries on public lands, even when caused by a dangerous condition. The law recognizes a number of defenses which protect the government entity, even when a dangerous condition existed or a person was injured on public property.
These defenses include (but are not limited to):
RECREATIONAL TRAIL IMMUNITY
Government entities are not liable for injuries caused by the condition of recreational trails and/or access roads leading to recreational areas. This immunity covers not only unpaved trails, but also paved paths, sidewalks, and even roads which exist to provide access to or through unimproved “natural” property.
IMMUNITY FROM LIABILITY FOR NATURAL CONDITIONS
When a person is injured by “natural conditions” on unimproved public lands, the government owner (or manager) is not liable for damages. This is due to a legal philosophy and doctrine which prefers not to subject the government to unreasonable and exorbitant expenses. It would be prohibitively expensive to make all of nature safe. Therefore, users of unimproved, “wilderness” property must assume the risk of injuries incurred when exploring or moving around in these wild areas.
This immunity extends to animal-inflicted injuries also, as long as the animals are wild animals living on or moving through unimproved public lands. If you see wildlife, remember: wild animals are hazardous, unpredictable, and may attack or bite. Never assume a wild animal is safe, no matter how cute or “harmless” it may appear.
HAZARDOUS ACTIVITY IMMUNITY
Government entities are not liable for injuries suffered by people who engage in “hazardous” recreational activities, such as hunting, because the decision to engage in such activities constitutes an acceptance of the risk. When a person deliberately enters public lands for purposes of engaging in dangerous activities, the individual has made a choice, and must bear the consequences of his or her hazardous actions.
Examples of hazardous activities include hunting, rifle and pistol shooting, rock climbing, waterskiing, and any other sport or activity which creates a substantial risk of harm to the participants and/or spectators.
THE RATIONALE BEHIND THESE IMMUNITIES:
These immunities stems, in part, from a desire on the part of government and lawmakers to encourage the opening of public lands for a variety of uses. If government agencies faced lawsuits over every person who suffered an injury on public land, many public lands would be closed and unavailable for public use–particularly the wilderness areas where potentially hazardous conditions may exist as a result of leaving land in its natural state.
These are not the only immunities government entities possess when it comes to avoiding liability for injuries occurring on public lands. If you or someone you know is injured on public lands, consult an experienced attorney promptly. You may lose or damage your legal rights if you delay.
DISCLAIMER: This article is intended for informational purposes only, does not constitute legal advice to any person or entity, and does not create an attorney-client relationship with any person or entity. The liability of public entities is a complex legal topic, and no single article can provide complete or comprehensive coverage or information about this or any other legal topic or issue. Your personal liability may differ, based on your individual facts and circumstances. If you believe you have a legal claim or issue, or wish to know more about your individual rights, consult an experienced attorney without delay.