State Supreme Court Rules in Favor of State Park in Premises Liability Lawsuit

The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently reversed a lower court’s decision to grant the plaintiffs a new trial in a negligence and premises liability lawsuit, and instead instructed the court to enter judgment in favor of the defendant as a matter of law. The case was filed by a man who broke his neck and was paralyzed after he dove into a pond at a World War II veterans memorial park that was operated by the state. He alleged that the defendants were negligent in their operation of the pond by allowing swimming but failing to adequately warn the public of the shallow water and diving danger.

The Plaintiff Breaks His Neck After Diving into Murky Water

The plaintiff in the case of Roy v. Rhode Island is a man who was severely injured and left paralyzed from the neck down after he dove from an apparent diving platform into shallow water in a pond on the grounds of a veterans memorial park operated by the defendant. According to the facts, as reflected in the appellate opinion, the pond was man-made and operated much like a swimming pool. There were “no swimming” signs posted around the pond, although swimming would be permitted occasionally and the state employed lifeguards, even at times when swimming was not technically allowed. The plaintiff’s injury occurred when he dove into the pond from a wall that had reportedly been used frequently by members of the public for diving, although diving was not permitted, and the depth of the pond floor varied considerably.

The Trial, the Verdict, and the Appeal

After a long jury trial and over a week of deliberations, the jury reached a verdict that found the defendant had been negligent in failing to warn the plaintiff of the latent danger posed by the shallow water. However, the jury decided not to award any damages to the plaintiff. The plaintiff argued that the verdict was not consistent with the instructions given to the jury, and demanded a new trial, which was granted by the trial court. The defendant appealed the ruling to the state supreme court, additionally arguing that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law under the state recreational use statute.

On appeal, the state high court agreed with the defendants, ruling that state law protects landowners who invite or permit members of the public to use their property for recreational purposes from liability for injuries sustained by members of the public. The court ruled that the state’s recreational use statute only allows a landowner to be held liable for damages in the event of a willful or malicious failure to warn against a dangerous condition, and that there was insufficient evidence presented at trial to demonstrate the defendant’s willful or malicious conduct. As a result of the supreme court’s ruling, the plaintiff will not be compensated for the expenses and loss related to his injuries

Florida’s Recreational Use Statute

Like Rhode Island, Florida has a state law that protects landowners from liability for injuries caused to members of the public if the landowner permits the public to use their land, free of charge, for recreational purposes. Florida Statute 375.251 mandates that landowners providing their land to the public for outdoor recreational purposes do not incur any duty of care toward a person who goes in the area. Florida’s recreational use statute does have exceptions. For example, section (4) of the statute notes that landowners or others may still be liable for deliberate, willful, or malicious injuries. Importantly, this landowner public use immunity does not apply if a member of the public is required to pay to use the property.

Assistance From a Miami Personal Injury Attorney

If you or a loved one has been injured or died while participating in a recreational activity, you may have a negligence or wrongful death claim against the landowner or business operator for damages related to your loss. The experienced South Florida injury attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank can help you get the damages that you deserve. One of our dedicated Miami premises liability attorneys can review your case and let you know if you may have a claim for compensation. At Friedman, Rodman & Frank, we represent clients throughout south Florida in premises liability, personal injury, and other negligence cases. Contact us to set up a free consultation. Call toll free at 877-448-8585 or use our online form to set up a meeting today. Se habla Español / Nou Parlé Creole.

More Blog Posts:

Court Affirms Judgment for Defendant in Case Filed after Fatal Skateboarding Accident, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published June 30, 2016.

State Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Medical Malpractice Plaintiff’s Attempt to Extend Statute of Limitations, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published July 15, 2016.

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