Archive for the ‘Parks and Recreation’ Category

No Relief – Issue of Town’s Liability Regarding Condition of High School Baseball Field for the Jury (MA)

October 19, 2015

Murray v. Town of Hudson (Massachusetts)

A relief pitcher for a high school baseball team injured his knee while warming up in the visiting team bullpen.  He filed a lawsuit against the town that maintained the park at which the baseball field was located, alleging that the injury was caused by the town’s negligence and its wanton and reckless conduct in allowing the visiting team to use a dangerous bullpen.  The town filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the negligence claim was barred by the Massachusetts recreational use statute, and that the evidence did not support a finding of wanton or reckless conduct.  The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, and the pitcher appealed.

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Worst Seat in the House – Triable Issue as to Whether Park Had Notice of Dangerous Bleachers (AL)

August 18, 2015

Shirley v. Tuscaloosa County Park and Recreation Authority (Alabama)

Plaintiff was sitting on bleachers at Munny Sokol Park in Alabama watching a youth football game.  Certain welds on the bleachers broke, causing plaintiff to fall and suffer personal injury.  Plaintiff filed a complaint against the parks and recreation authority that owned the property, alleging negligence and wantonness.  Plaintiff later amended her complaint to assert a claim under the Alabama Extended Manufacturer’s Liability Doctrine against several fictitiously named defendants.  The property owner filed a motion for summary judgment arguing it was entitled to immunity under Alabama’s recreational use statute.  The trial court granted the motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, plaintiff argued that the trial court improperly entered summary judgment because there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the park was being used for commercial purposes and whether the property owner had “actual knowledge or an unreasonable risk of death or serious bodily harm” (both exceptions to the statutory immunity).

The Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama noted that plaintiff presented no evidence indicating that the use of the park was commercial in nature.  However, the Court found that the plaintiff did present evidence that the property owner had actual knowledge regarding the unreasonably dangerous condition of the bleachers and that it failed to guard or warn against the consequences.  The evidence established that an employee of the property owner arrived at the scene of the incident and commented, “I told them earlier to put a cone or a sign on this bleacher until we could get somebody out here to repair it.”  Another witness also confirmed that the the condition of the bleachers was known and should have been “coned off.”  The property owner disputed the facts, but the Court noted that it was required to review the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant.  Therefore, the Court reversed the decision and remanded the trial for further proceedings.

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

July 31, 2015

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.”

Tragedy at the Beach – State Not Liable for Youth Killed by Collapsed Sand (CA)

July 27, 2015

Buchanan v. California Department of Parks and Recreation (California)
(unpublished opinion)

A seventeen year old boy and his brother participated in a church youth group outing to Sunset State Beach in California.  During the outing, the boy and another member of the church group “created an unnatural condition that was not common to nature and would not naturally occur in that location, in that they were engaged in digging large holes in the sand in a picnic area being used by the church group, which was located within the park boundaries, separated from the beach by sand dunes, but within sight of a nearby elevated life guard station.”  The sand collapsed, burying and killing the boy.  A lawsuit was filed by the boy’s family, with the amended complaint alleging two causes of action.  First, the plaintiffs alleged that the California Department of Parks and Recreation (“DPR”) employees observed (or should have observed) the digging activities and they had a duty to warn the boy and the group of the known risks.  Second, the boy’s brother alleged a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress as a bystander that witnessed the incident.

The DPR filed a demurrer to the amended complaint, asserting that the complaint failed to show that it owed a duty to the plaintiff and that statutory government immunity applied.  The trial court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend based on the Hazardous Recreational Activity immunity found in Government Code Section 831.7, and it entered a judgment of dismissal in favor of the defendant.  Plaintiffs appealed. (more…)

Foul on the Defense – Basketball Rec League Waiver Void Under New York Statute (NY)

June 12, 2015

(photo by Dave Lindblom; unchanged)

Falzone v. City of New York (New York)

Plaintiff paid a fee to register to play in a recreation basketball league.  The league then paid the defendant New York City Department of Eduction a portion of the league registration fees for a permit in order to use a public school gymnasium.  During a game at the facility, the plaintiff was injured when his hand went through the glass window of a door that was behind one of the basketball hoops.  Plaintiff then filed an action against the City of New York and the Department of Education.  After initially responding, the defendant filed a motion for leave to amend their answer to add the affirmative defense of release and filed a motion to dismiss the complaint.  The trial court granted both motions and the plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court determined that the trial court had properly granted the City of New York’s motion to dismiss in that it did not operate, maintain, or control the school premises.  As to the motion by the Department of Eduction to add the affirmative defense of release, the Court reversed the decision.  the Court explained that “[a]lthough leave to amend a pleading should be freely given [citation omitted], a court should deny a motion for leave to amend if the proposed amendment is palpably insufficient, would prejudice or surprise the opposing party, or is patently devoid of merit.”  The Court noted that the proposed amendment regarding the affirmative defense of release was “devoid of merit.”  The plaintiff had signed a “Player Waiver, Release of Liability and Indemnification Agreement” prior to his participation in the basketball league, but he paid a league fee to use the gymnasium and the payment of the fee rendered the waiver and release agreement void pursuant to New York General Obligations Law Section 5-326.  Under Section 5-326, every agreement in connection with a place of recreation in which the owner or operator receives a fee for the use of such facilities that exempts the owner or operator from liability for damages resulting from the negligence of the owner or operator is deemed void as against public policy and wholly unenforceable.

Root of the Problem

August 3, 2012

Connelly v. City of Omaha (Nebraska)
(Children were injured while sledding at a public park when they struck a tree, and their parents filed an action agains the city for negligence; liability was imposed against the city for failing to remedy an unreasonable risk of harm.)

The Nebraska Supreme Court determined that the City of Omaha should have realized that the trees in the area of the park used by the public for sledding posed an unreasonable risk of danger.  Moreover, the Court explained that the city should have expected that lawful visitors to that area of the park for sledding would fail to protect themselves against the danger posed by trees in the area.  Key facts in the litigation revolved around the city’s efforts to restore and renovate the subject park where the incident occurred about 10 year prior to the incident.  The city held public hearing opportunities, and issues relating to “sledding opportunities” were discussed in detail.  City officials also specifically debated issues regarding the placement of trees and how such placement could affect the sledding activities.  Several years later, many trees were planted at the park in an area previously identified as the location for sledding.  There was also an indication of prior similar incidents in the area.

The verdict from a bench trial was affirmed, and the children and parents were awarded damages.  The damages of all parties were subject to damage caps pursuant to Nebraska’s statutory scheme limiting the liability exposure of political subdivisions.

NOTE: Cases like this are a reason that government entities are hesitant to fully embrace recreational activities on public lands.  It ia also a lesson to government entities to carefully select their words while making a public record on issues relating to potentially dangerous conditions on public lands.  Unfortunately, the impact of cases like this extends far beyond these parties and the City of Omaha.

Risks are in the Eyes of the (Little) Beholders

March 30, 2011

Playground Warning Sign a Bit Much?(Washington D.C.)
(Clearly American children are way behind this whole understanding the risks situation.)
FutureofCapitalism.com recently posted an entertaining image depicting the legal compartmentalization of recreational risks in today’s world. Perhaps we should consider checking identification at local parks just to be sure.

No Free License to Mow Down Bikers

August 28, 2010

Klein v. U.S. (California)
(California Supreme Court rules that the liability shield of California’s recreational use statute did not extend to acts of vehicular negligence.)

The plaintiff was riding a bicycle for recreation on a two-lane paved road in Angeles National Forest in Southern California when he was struck head-on by an automobile driven by a part-time volunteer working for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The court ruled that California Civil Code Section 846, which provides that a landowner “owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for any recreational purpose” did not extend to acts of vehicular negligence. The Court based its decisions on the plain language of the statute noting that the statutory phrase “keep the premises safe” related to property-based duties underlying premises liability, not including vehicular negligence.

NOTE: The Court’s conclusion was logical based upon the clearly defined duties related to premises liability.

A Challenging Course

June 28, 2007

Roman v. City of Bristol (Connecticut)
(Employee Injured While Using Rented Recreational Challenge Course Owned and Operated by the City; Employee Sued City and City Sued Employer Citing Indemnity Provisions in Rental Agreement; Court Found Issues of Fact Regarding Whether the Employer and the City Were Both Sophisticated Business Entities with Equal Bargaining Power Such That the Indemnity Provisions Should Be Enforced)

An employer signed a rental agreement with the city that included the rental fee and the date and time for use of a recreational challenge course owned by and located in the city.  An employee of the employer was injured while using the course and she brought a personal injury action against both the city and the city’s course instructor who was present at the time of the incident.  The city then filed a third party lawsuit against the employer for breach of contract and indemnification.  The city alleged that the employer breached the rental agreement by (1) not holding them harmless, (2) not providing them with a legal defense, and (3) failing to secure and maintain an adequate and proper liability insurance policy.  The employer filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that it was not obligated to indemnify the city under the contract for the city’s own alleged negligent conduct.  The trial court granted the employer’s motion, and the city appealed. 

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