Summer is ending and Autumn is upon us! Time for hiking, climbing, hunting, and enjoying the great outdoors! However, these seasonal activities, like any other outdoor activities, are not without risk. A serious outdoor injury can occur from diving in shallow water, hiking off marked trails, and failing to exercise caution outdoors.
In Pennsylvania, we have a law called the Recreational Use of Land and Water Act. The RULWA provides landowners immunity from lawsuits if they allow the general public access to their land for recreational purposes without a fee. The law was intended to encourage landowners not to post their lands with “No Trespassing” signs and enable fishermen, hunters, hikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts greater access to our open spaces. In general, landowners who allow access are given the same protection from liability as if they had posted “No Trespassing” signs. The landowner cannot be liable unless he actually knew of a hazard on his property and deliberately failed to take steps to correct it or warn about it.
Let’s look at some examples. A sledder walking across land to a snowy slope falls in a deep, uncovered well on the property. If the landowner (a) knew people walked on his land for recreational purposes, (b) knew about the well, and (c) failed to take steps to cover it or prevent someone from falling into it, the landowner may still be sued. The RULWA offers no protection in that circumstance. However, if the sledder, while sledding down the hill, loses control or strikes a tree and suffers a head injury, the landowner will not be liable.
Assumption of Risk
Landowners may also rely on a doctrine called “assumption of the risk.” Those of us who enjoy outdoor activities are assumed to know the risks inherent in the activity and assume the risk of being injured while participating. However, the doctrine generally affords protection to landowners only for known or expected risks such as collisions with natural objects.
Before engaging in outdoor activity, it is always important to be familiar with the area and to observe signs and marked trails. Enjoying the sport safely is far more important and worthwhile than trying to figure out who’s at fault after an outdoor injury occurs.
If you have any questions regarding possible exposure as a landowner or if you sustained an outdoor injury due to someone else’ fault, contact Scott Fegley at the Fegley Law Firm, in Yardley, PA at (215) 493-8287 or email us as [email protected].