Blown Away – Recreational Immunity Statute Applied to Incident Involving Charity Hot Air Balloon Ride (WI)

by

Roberts v. T.H.E. Insurance Company (Wisconsin)
(final publication pending decision)

The plaintiff attended a charity event and was waiting in line to participate in a hot air balloon ride.  A gust of wind snapped a tether holding the balloon, sending the balloon and basket sliding across the land, where it crashed into the plaintiff and knocked her down.  The injured plaintiff filed a negligence lawsuit against the balloon ride operator and its insurer.  The defendants filed for summary judgment based upon Wisconsin’s recreational immunity statute, and the trial court granted the motion.  The plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals of Wisconsin affirmed the decision.  The plaintiff argued that the recreational immunity statute should not apply because the alleged negligent acts were not directed at the condition of the land itself and “there was nothing about the land that caused [plaintiff’s] injuries.”  The Court explained that the purpose of the statute was “to achieve the goal of encouraging property owners to open their lands to public recreation by limiting the liability of property owners,” and the Court further noted that the statute should be construed liberally in favor of property owners.

The statute applies to anyone that “own, leases, or occupies property” and it applies to “recreational activity” as detailed in the statute.  The plaintiff did not contest that the defendant occupied the property or that the activity satisfied the definition of “recreational activity” under the statute.  However, plaintiff argued that the statute provided that the liability at issue needed to relate to the property itself.  The Court disagreed, referring to the plaintiff’s misinterpretation of the statute and caselaw she cited in opposition to the motion.

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