Out in the Cold – Claim for Injury to Snowmobiler Barred by Recreational Immunity Statute (OR)

by

Stringer v. U.S. Department of Agriculture (Oregon)
(trial court disposition)

A snowmobiler was injured in a national forest when he drove off an embankment.  He filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service under the Federal Tort Claims Act.  The Forest Service moved to dismiss the claim.  The U.S. District Court ruled that the Forest Service was entitled to statutory immunity.

The Court noted that as stated in the Oregon statutes, “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….” (citation omitted) advances this policy by granting “immunity to landowners who open their land to the public for recreational purposes.”  Referring to one of the exceptions to the immunity, the plaintiff argued that the Forest Service had waived the immunity by charging a fee for use of its lands.  Specifically, plaintiff cited that the Forest Service charged third parties for camping fees and ski-lift fees within the forest lands.  However, the Court disagreed, explaining “The Deschutes National Forest comprises approximately 1.8 million acres of land, including three independent ranger districts. (citation omitted)  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.”

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