Monday, April 12, 2010

Recreational Use Immunity

By John DiMotto
In my last post, I addressed Governmental Immunity. Today, I would like to look at Wisconsin's Recreational Use Immunity.
Wisconsin Statutes section 895.52 sets forth Wisconsin's policy to encourage landowners to open their property for recreational activities. The policy provides that no owner owes:
1) a duty to keep the property safe for recreational activities.
2) a duty to inspect the property.
3) a duty to give warning of an unsafe condition, use or activity on the property.
Of course, there are exceptions to this general policy:
1) There is no immunity for State or other governmental bodies for death or injury that occurs on property at any event for which the owner charges an admission fee for spectators.
2) There is no immunity for a nonprofit organization for death or injury caused by a malicious act or a malicious failure to warn against unsafe conditions which occurs on the property.
3) There is no immunity for the owner of private property which is used for recreational activities:
a) if the property owner collects money, goods or services in payment for the use of the private property for recreational activities during which death or injury occurs where the aggregate of payments exceeds $2,000.
b) if death or injury is caused by the malicious failure of the private property owner to warn against an unsafe condition.
c) if death or injury is caused by a malicious act of the private property owner.
d) if death of injury is to a social guest who has been invited by the private property owner for a specific occasion if it occurs on platted land, residential property or property within 300 feet of a building on land classified as commercial.
e) if death or injury is sustained by an employee of the private property owner acting within scope of employment.
Recreational activity is defined very broadly in 895.52(1)(g). It generally encompasses "unorganized" recreations.
In essence, this recreational immunity attaches when the owner's act is related to the maintenance and condition of the land.
Case law has given explanations and expansions to definitions. As is the case in all areas of the law, nothing is black and white. Everything comes in shades of gray.
Recreational use immunity recognizes that, in the final analysis people are responsible for their own actions and that landowners who generously make their property open to others to "recreationally express" themselves will not be punished if a person pursuing recreation is hurt on the property. This addresses the old adage "no good deed goes unpunished" and provides that good deeds will not be punished.

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