Hot Air Balloon Operator Not Entitled to Immunity under Recreational Use Statute

Earlier this month, the state supreme court in Wisconsin issued an opinion holding that a hot air balloon operator was not entitled to immunity under the state’s recreational use statute. In the case, Roberts v. T.H.E. Insurance Co., the court determined that a hot air balloon operator is neither an owner nor an occupier of the land on which it operates, and it is therefore not entitled to immunity.

The Facts of the Case

Ms. Roberts was at a charity event hosted at a local gun club when she was injured while waiting in line to take a tethered hot air balloon ride. According to the court’s written opinion, the defendant hot air balloon operator was providing free rides to help support the charity event. People interested in taking a free ride would line up, and an employee of the hot air balloon company would hand out waivers of release for each person to sign. The wait to get up in a balloon was about 20-30 minutes.

As Ms. Roberts was waiting, a strong wind broke the balloon free of the tethers, and it came swinging into the line of those waiting to ride in the balloon. It struck Ms. Roberts, and she fell to the ground, sustaining injuries as a result. Afterwards, she filed a lawsuit against the defendant, the operator of the hot air balloon.

The defendant asserted that she had immunity from the lawsuit, based on the state’s recreational use statute, which grants immunity to those who open up their land for the recreational use of the general public. The trial court agreed that the defendant was entitled to immunity, and the case was dismissed. The plaintiff eventually appealed to the state’s supreme court.

On Appeal, the Case Is Reversed

The appellate court reversed the lower court’s decision, holding that the defendant was not entitled to immunity under the statute because she was neither an “owner” nor an “occupier” of the land. The court determined that the statute is clear in that it applies only to owners and occupiers of land. Here, the defendant was operating her business on the land of another party, who was not even named in the lawsuit.

The court also went on to hold that the waiver signed by the plaintiff was not valid because it was too broad and attempted to exempt the defendant from liability for any conceivable action, which is against public policy. Thus, the plaintiff will have another opportunity to seek compensation for her injuries.

Have You Been Injured on the Land of Another Party?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured while on the land of another party, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Recreational use statutes and release of liability forms may apply in some limited circumstances, but it would be a mistake to assume that either would bar your recovery without first speaking to a dedicated attorney. Call the Maryland and Washington, D.C. premises liability attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen to set up a free consultation to discuss your case. With their help, you can best determine how to proceed with your case.

More Blog Posts:

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

Court Holds City Employee Not Entitled to Immunity as a “Land Owner”, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, April 1, 2016

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