Court Holds City Employee Not Entitled to Immunity as a “Land Owner”

Earlier this month, one state’s highest court issued an opinion interpreting the state’s recreational use statute, determining that a city employee named in his individual capacity is not entitled to governmental immunity as a “land owner” for the land he was in charge of maintaining. In the case, Johnson v. Gibson, the court determined that the plaintiff’s lawsuit should be permitted to move forward against the allegedly negligent employee and his supervisor.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured while jogging in a city-owned park when she stepped in a small hole that had been dug to repair a sprinkler. The hole was dug by one of the defendants named in the lawsuit, who was a city employee in charge of park maintenance. The lawsuit also named the employee’s supervisor.

At trial, the defendants asked the court to dismiss the case against them, based on the fact that they were entitled to government immunity as city employees. Generally speaking, governments and private land owners alike are immune from personal injury lawsuits that occur on their land, as long as the land is open for use to the public without a fee. However, in this case the court determined that the city employee was not a “land owner” who had opened his land up for use by the public.

The defendant’s argument was that he “occupied” the land, and therefore he had a possessory interest. However, the court took a more straightforward approach and held that the employee’s relationship with the park was not possessory. The court considered the fact that land owners are generally able to exclude others from their land should they choose to do so. Here, the defendant did not have that right.

The court also made the distinction between a lawsuit being filed against the employee as an agent of the government and a lawsuit against the employee in his individual capacity. When a lawsuit is filed against the government, alleging that the negligent acts of an agent gave rise to liability, the employee may be considered an “owner” because he is acting as the agent of the owner. However, under these facts, the lawsuit proceeded against the employee as an individual, and it would be improper to consider him an owner of the city’s land.

Have You Been Injured in a Maryland or Washington, D.C. Slip-and-Fall Accident?

If you have suffered a serious injury while on another’s property, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a premises liability lawsuit. Property owners generally have an obligation to maintain safe premises, and their failure to do so can give rise to liability. To learn more about Maryland and Washington, D.C. premises liability cases, and to speak with a dedicated attorney about your injuries, call 410-654-3600 today to set up a free consultation. Calling is free and will not result in any obligation on your part unless we are ultimately able to help you obtain the compensation you deserve.

More Blog Posts:

Product Liability Appeal against Food Manufacturer Dismissed for Failure to Preserve Alleged Error, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, March 23 2016

Plaintiff’s Product Liability Case Against Rifle Manufacturer Revived on Appeal, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, March 2, 2016

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