Georgia Recreational Property Act: A Powerful Personal Injury Defense
Warm weather means outdoor recreational activities including camping, hiking, swimming, fishing and similar activities. People in recreational areas throughout Georgia engage in such activities, and sometimes personal injury accidents occur on private or public property held open to the public for such recreational activity. Although an owner of public property or a public entity may be liable for personal injuries that occur on their property based on premises liability law, Georgia, like many states, has a recreational use statute that may bar liability on certain land under specific circumstances.
The Georgia Recreational Property Act (RPA) OCGA §§ 51-3-20 through 51-3-26 provides a bar to recovery for some personal injuries suffered on public and private land held open for recreational activity. A recreational use statute is legislation generally intended to promote public recreational use of privately owned land. Georgia also extends the applicability of the RPA to public land held open for public use. Matheson et al v. Georgia Department of Transportation. The recreational use statute functions by granting private and public landowners broad immunity from liability for personal injuries or property damage suffered by land users pursuing recreational activities on the owner's land. The underlying policy behind a recreational use statute is that the public's need for access to recreational land exceeds the government's ability to provide it so landowners should be encouraged to make their land available for recreational use.
Recreational use statutes differ greatly between states in terms of exactly which activities are covered. For example, bicycling is covered in many states, but is not included in the Georgia recreational use statute. The specific activities covered by the Georgia recreational use statute include: hunting, fishing, swimming, boating, camping, picnicking, hiking, pleasure driving, nature study, water skiing, winter sports, and viewing or enjoying historical, archeological, scenic, or scientific sites.
The statute limits liability for injuries that occur on property held open to the public for recreational use with two exceptions:
- A willful or malicious failure to warn or make the premises safe or
- The property owner charges a fee
While the property must be used for recreational purposes for the statute to apply, the property does not need to be used exclusively for recreational purposes. While a property may have both a recreational and commercial component, this will not necessarily mean that the statute does not apply. “[T]he important criterion is the purpose for which the public is permitted on the property. If the public is invited to further the business interests of the owner — e.g., for sales of food, merchandise, services, etc. — then the RPA will not shield the owner from liability even though the public receives some recreation as a side benefit.” Matheson. The Matheson case also found that the RPA also applies to public property.
The statute applies broadly not just to land but bodies of water or waterways, structures, machinery and equipment that is attached to the property. A charge is defined by the statute as an admission price of fee for the right to enter and use the land. If you suffer a serious injury while on property that is held open for recreational use, the RPA can be a powerful defense to liability for your injuries.
However, RPA cases may turn on subtle factual issues. Sometimes a landowner will own a large amount of acreage where some of the land is held open to the public for recreational use and other land is not open for such use. It is important to ascertain exactly where the accident occurred. Similarly, a landowner may charge a fee for use of certain portions of their property but allow free access for recreational use on other portions of the property. These types of subtle factual distinctions can provide ways around the bar to liability created by the RPA. It is important to contact an experienced Georgia personal injury lawyer as soon as possible if you are injured to find out about your legal rights, and the steps you must take to protect your rights. An experienced Georgia personal injury law firm will have the experience to investigate the circumstances of your accident to develop the best factual and legal strategy to address a possible defense based on the Georgia Recreation Property Act.
The experienced Georgia personal injury lawyers at Montlick and Associates, Attorneys at Law, have been representing personal injury accident victims in Atlanta and throughout Georgia for over 39 years. Our Atlanta personal injury lawyers are available to assist clients throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.