Recreational immunity: when do you have it?

I have a backyard trampoline and I’m concerned about my children’s friends falling off and getting hurt. Am I responsible if they are injured?

Wisconsin's "recreational immunity" statute should provide protection if someone is hurt while participating in recreational activities on your property, according to Michael Stoker, an attorney with Johns, Flaherty & Collins.

The law, passed in 1963, protects property owners from lawsuits for outdoor activities for "exercise, relaxation or pleasure, including practice or instruction."

"This statute means people on your property engaged in a recreational activity can't sue you for the injury or damages they sustain," Stoker said.

The law, which applies to government and nonprofit or private landowners, does not provide immunity:

  • To owners who receive more than $2,000 a year from admissions or other fees.
  • For malicious acts or maliciously failing to warn others of dangerous conditions.

The law does not apply in all cases. Consider a recent, local example. Two lawsuits arose from a tragic death in 1997 of an 11-year-old boy in a Paper Recycling warehouse fire in La Crosse. His two friends escaped.

The insurance company of the warehouse owners sued Paper Recycling, as did the boy's mother in a separate lawsuit. Paper Recycling claimed recreational immunity. Two lower court judges disagreed about whether the boys' activities fit the definition of recreation. They did not have permission to be in the warehouse and one of the boys was later found to be delinquent for playing with matches.

In June 2001, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that Paper Recycling was not entitled to recreational immunity in either lawsuit. In a 5 to 2 vote, the justices said the boys were not involved in a recreational activity when they lit the fires.

Wisconsin also has a "recreational activities" statute limiting the right of a participant in organized sports to sue for injury. This law holds that individuals accept inherent dangers when they participate in public recreational activities.

"When you play softball or flag football in a city league, the law holds that you know, and have accepted, the risks involved in the activity and that you know the rules," Stoker said.

For more information on liability issues in Wisconsin, contact Michael Stoker at 608-784-5678.

Please Share Me On