In Hiking, Outdoor Activities, Premises Liability

by Bernard D. Nomberg, Partner, The Nomberg Law Firm

There is nothing better than getting away from the daily stresses of work and enjoying a peaceful hike. With the warmer weather and longer days here, many people are planning more outdoor adventures. Outdoor activities are fun but always bring with them some interesting safety and legal considerations. Unfortunately, injuries and accidents occur regardless of safety precautions implemented.

One of the most common and cost efficient activities to do outside is hiking. Anyone at any age and fitness level can enjoy a hike through the woods. With all these fun activities always comes the possibility of an accident. If you are injured while hiking, or participating in any outdoor recreational activity, and the injuries were not your fault, who is at fault?

Who is liable for the public hiking trails? Does the owner owe a duty to maintain the premises in a safe condition? Alabama law is clear that if you are using public recreational lands that you are doing so at your own risk. In Alabama, recreational land laws are favorable to the landowner. For example, under Alabama law, owners or lessees of land owe no duty to keep their premises safe for entry and use by others for hunting, fishing, camping, water sports, hiking, boating, or other recreational purposes or to give any warning of hazardous conditions. Ala. Code § 35-15-1. For instance, if a person is injured while hiking, due to uneven surfaces, and files a lawsuit against the landowner for failure to warn of the treacherous trail condition, then the case will not succeed. The landowner did not have a duty to post any warnings of potentially dangerous conditions. Additionally, the landowner does not have a duty to maintain the trail or ensure it is even throughout.

An owner of land who gives a person permission to hunt, fish, hike, or engage in recreational activities does not extend any assurance the premises are safe for such purpose. Even if given permission to be on the land, you are not given the status of an invitee. Ala. Code § 35-15-2. If a person was given the status of an invitee (person invited to be on the land by the landowner), the landowner would have an increased duty to warn of dangerous conditions. For example, if the landowner failed to warn of a hazardous condition, such as wild animals roaming the land, and a person gets injured by the animal, the injured person would not have a successful case against the landowner. However, if the individual was given the status of an invitee, and the landowner failed to warn of the possibility of wild animals, they would have a claim against the landowner.

Additionally, an owner of outdoor recreational land, who permits non-commercial public recreational use of such land, owes no duty of care to inspect or keep such land safe for entry or use by any person, or to give warning or a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity on such land. Ala. Code § 35-15-22. Ultimately, as long as the landowner is not receiving a profit from people using their land for any outdoor recreational activity, an individual injured, while engaging in a recreational activity on their land, will not have a claim against the landowner for damages.

There are several dangers that can result from hiking and enjoying recreational activity outdoors. When hiking, pedestrian conflicts are a major source of injury. These injuries result from difference in movement patterns and speed differences. Obviously, the greater the difference in movements, biking versus hiking, the greater the risk for injury. Injuries on trails are often due to crowds and user conflicts. Sharing the trail with hikers and bikers can result in accidents due to collisions, unsafe user behavior, poor judgment, dangerous conditions on the trail such as rain, snow and road bike speed. Many of these conflicts go unreported which leads to managers not being aware of situations creating conflicts until a serious accident occurs.

So, who has the right a way on trails? Hikers or Bikers? From personal experience, I think it depends on the situation. If you are biking and approaching a group of hikers from behind, who appear to be struggling or having a hard time on the trail, try to go around them the best you can rather than force them to move. It is obviously easier for a hiker to move to the side than for a biker to change their path; the biker has more freedom and can see the hiker and the situation better than the hiker.

Many people love bringing their dogs out to the park and on hikes. If your dog bites someone at a public park are you liable? Under Alabama law, a dog owner is liable for injuries caused by their dog if the injured person did not provoke the dog, the injured person was not trespassing, and the injured person was on the dog owner’s property. However, this statute does not apply when someone is injured by a dog in a public place, sidewalk, or a park. Nevertheless, if you are in a public place and injured by someone else’s dog, you could bring a suit for negligence. You could allege the owner failed to use reasonable care to control the dog and but for the owner’s negligence, the injury would not have happened.

In order to avoid being hit with a negligence suit for your dog biting someone, the dog owner needs to ensure they are exercising due care by following the leash laws set in place for the jurisdiction they are in. Some parks and recreational areas will not allow dogs in without a leash. Whereas some parks prohibit dogs all together. Whatever the case may be, make sure you are strictly following the rules. Failure to keep a close watch on your dog, could potentially result in a negligence suit being brought against you.

Ultimately, all outdoor recreational activities can be fun and performed safely. Be aware of your surroundings and the conditions of the premises. Watch for any signs of dangerous conditions. All of this will help avoid injuries, which will likely not have any avenue for relief in Alabama courts.

If you like to hike, check out some of our favorite Alabama trails: Ruffner Mountain in the heart of Birmingham, Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham and Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville.

Bernard D. Nomberg has been an avid hiker and lawyer for more than 20 years. Bernard has earned an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell’s peer-review rating. He has been selected a Super Lawyer by Super Lawyers Magazine as well as a Top Lawyer by B-Metro Magazine. Bernard is the Chair of the Alabama State Bar’s Workers’ Compensation Section.

 

photo credit: freephotos.cc

 

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