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.
On appeal, the plaintiff claimed that the lower court erred when it found that the steps were part of a “trail” under the immunity statute. The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument, and affirmed the dismissal of her case. The court explained that even if the property is not a trail itself, it may still be considered a trail under the statute if the property is “essential” to the trail. The court explained that it considers three factors when determining whether the property is considered a “trail” under the terms of the statute:
- The accepted definition of the property;
- The purpose for which the property is designed and used; and
- The purpose of the immunity statute.
Taking these factors into account, the court concluded that the steps were a “trail,” under the terms of the statute. The court reasoned that steps fit within the definition of “trail,” which Merriam Webster dictionary defined as “a marked or established path or route especially through a forest or mountainous region.” The court was unconvinced by the plaintiff’s attempt to distinguish the terms “trail” and “staircase,” noting that the steps at issue here fit within both definitions.
Have You Been Injured on Public Property in Washington, D.C?
If you or a loved one recently suffered a serious injury after a Washington, D.C. slip and fall accident, contact the attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC. At Lebowitz & Mzhen, we proudly represent clients in all types of Washington, D.C. premises liability cases, as well as those arising in nearby Maryland and Virginia. To learn more about how our dedicated team of personal injury advocates can help you pursue a claim for compensation, call 410-654-3600 today.