Injuries on Recreational Land: How Statutes Immunize Landowners From Liability

When somebody is injured on another person's property,  traditional rules apply that determine whether the landowner is legally responsible for the injury. In Oregon, the injured party's status on the land determines the extent of the landowner''s responsibility. The rules are similar in Washington.

However,Oregon and Washington each have statutes that provide protection to landowners that make their property available for recreational use. This is a good public policy because it provides access to recreational land while protecting the landowner. However, some people may argue that the protections go too far.

In Oregon, the recreational land use statute traditionally provided immunity from suit to the landowner, even if the landowner was negligent. However, if the landowner was "grossly  negligent," or "reckless," then the immunity did not apply. These terms are subject to a lot of different definitions, but in the end, the statute would not protect a landowner who blatantly disregarded the safety  of those entering onto the land.

After some cases were pursued in the 1990s, the Legislature amended the statute in Oregon so that landowners are protected from liability, even if they act with blatant disregard for the safety of others, or recklessly. One Judge has described this level behavior as an "I don't give a damn  attitude."  Thus,  the landowner in Oregon need not worry about being held responsible for any injury suffered, even if the landowner is blatant and reckless.

In Washington, there is a similar law, but it takes a different approach. Washington provides general immunity to landowners who make their property available for others for recreational purposes. However, if a person is injured due to a known, dangerous, latent artificial condition,, and there are no signs warning the land user of this latent condition, then the landowner can be held responsible for the visits or's injuries. There is a a lot of case law that discusses whether a condition is "latent" or not, and typically, this is a question for the jury to decide.

Both Oregon and Washington do make exceptions to this fairly broad blanket of immunity. For example, landowners to charge a certain fee to allow fishermen, hikers or other recreational users onto the property do not enjoy the statute's immunity. In Oregon, there is even some case law that discusses whether a person is actually engaged in  a "recreational"  activity.

If you have been injured on another person cautious property, and wonder if you have a claim,  it makes sense to at least investigate the claim and rule out whether or not these immunities apply. Call us at 503-325-8600. We have investigated and pursued claims in Oregon and Washington, and are familiar with the recreational land use statutes.