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The Limits of Florida’s Recreational Use Statute

While Florida landowners generally owe a duty to keep their property safe and to warn visitors of any dangerous conditions on their land, Florida lawmakers have created an exception in the state’s recreational use statute. The Florida recreational use statute was passed “to encourage persons to make available to the public land, water areas and park areas for outdoor recreational purposes by limiting their liability.”

Thus, under Florida statutes section 375.251, a landowner who allows the public to use their property for recreational purposes “owes no duty of care to keep that park area or land safe for entry or use by others, or to give warning to persons entering or going on that park area or land of any hazardous conditions, structures, or activities thereon.” However, the recreational use statute only applies if the landowner derives no commercial benefit from the use of their property.

There are limits to the protection that the recreational use statute provides to landowners, however. For example, the statute does not protect against the “deliberate, willful or malicious injury to persons or property.” A recent federal appellate case illustrates the type of scenario where the recreational use statute may not apply.

The Facts

According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was seriously injured while he was riding a bicycle on land owned by the Air Force Academy. Evidently, the plaintiff fell off his bike after was he ran over a massive sinkhole that was caused by soil erosion.

Apparently, the sinkhole had previously been discovered by a scientist with the Fish and Wildlife Service. While the scientist’s job was to “monitor serious erosion and sedimentation issues,” and the scientist took pictures to document the sinkhole, he did not take any action to repair it.

The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the federal government. In response, the federal government argued that it was protected by the recreational use statute. The plaintiff argued that the recreational use statute did not apply in his case because the government scientist “willfully ignored the dangerous condition on the path and chose not to take steps to warn or guard users.” The trial court agreed with the plaintiff, and the jury returned a verdict in his favor. The government appealed.

On appeal, the jury’s verdict was affirmed. The court found that the government scientist knew about the sinkhole and the dangers it presented. The court also found that the scientist willfully in consciously disregarding the potential consequences of not reporting the sinkhole. Thus, the court held that an exception to the recreational use statute applied, and that the government was not entitled to the statute’s protection.

Have You Been Injured on Another’s Property?

If you or someone you care about has recently been injured on another’s property, you may be able to recover financial compensation for your injuries through a Florida personal injury lawsuit. Even if you were engaging in a recreational activity at the time of your injury, the landowner might still be liable for your injuries. At the South Florida personal injury law firm of Friedman Rodman & Frank, we represent injury victims across South Florida in all types of cases, including Florida premises liability claims. To learn more, call 877-448-8585 to schedule your free consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

What Is an Attractive Nuisance under Florida Personal Injury Law?, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published February 21, 2019.

Liability in Florida Sports Injury Cases, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published February 14, 2019.

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