March 2014 - Parks & Recreation - 31

L AW R E V I E W

Recreational Immunity Regarding Debris in Park
By James C. Kozlowski, J.D., Ph.D.

W

hile absolute governmental immunity is a thing of the past, most jurisdictions still enjoy some significant form of limited governmental
immunity for public parks and recreation. Limited landowner liability under an applicable state recreational use statute (RUS) is the most common
form of limited governmental immunity for public parks and recreation. With
minor jurisdictional variations, recreational use statutes exist in most states.
Generally, under a state RUS, a landowner who opens the premises for public recreational use, free of charge, owes
no legal duty to guard, warn or make
the premises reasonably safe for use.
While some jurisdictions have limited
the applicability of the state RUS to
private landowners, many jurisdictions
have included public entities within the
statutory or judicial interpretation of
" landowner " under the state RUS. As
described herein, the Supreme Court of
Ohio has broadly construed the immunity available under the state RUS for a
serious injury sustained in a city park.

Hazardous Hill
In the case of Pauley v. City of Circleville, 2013-Ohio-4541; 2013 Ohio
LEXIS 2313 (10/16/2013), plaintiff
Jeremy Pauley sustained catastrophic
injuries while sledding in a city park.
Based upon immunity available to
landowners under the state RUS, the
lower courts had decided in favor of
the defendant city. The state supreme
court granted Pauley's petition to review this decision.
On appeal, Pauley argued immunity under the state RUS should not
apply " if a property owner modifies

his or her property in a manner that
creates a hazard without promoting
or preserving the recreational character of the property. " Accordingly,
the stated issue before the Supreme
Court of Ohio was whether immunity under the state RUS applied to
" man-made hazards upon real property that do not further or maintain
its recreational value. "
Facts
The city owns Barthelmas Park, which
contains ballfields, a playground and
various structures, such as a concession stand and picnic shelters. Entry
to the park is free of charge.
In the summer of 2006, the city was
offered free topsoil excavated from a
nearby construction site. The city uses
topsoil for numerous projects, including reseeding the park. Consequently,

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