Washington, D.C. personal injury law imposes a duty on landowners to take certain precautions to ensure that their property is safe. Generally, when someone is hurt on another’s property due to the landowner’s failure to fulfill this duty, the injury victim can hold the landowner responsible for their injuries. However, if a recreational use statute applies, the landowner may be immune from liability. A recent case illustrates this concept.
According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff and her boyfriend planned a camping trip at a state park. The two camped at a campground that was accessible from a parking lot. There were two paths to the campsite, a stone staircase and an Americans with Disabilities (ADA)-complaint handicapped ramp. After spending one night, the plaintiff tripped on some uneven pavement while climbing up the stone steps to the campground’s parking lot. The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the state, as the operator of the park.
The state where the case arose has a recreational use statute, providing that any public entity is not liable for injuries occurring on “any unpaved road which provides access to fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, riding . . . water sports, recreational or scenic areas . . . [or] any trail used for the above purposes.” The state argued that the steps constituted a “trail” under the statute, and that the court should dismiss the plaintiff’s case. The trial court agreed, dismissing the plaintiff’s claim.