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What is property owner liability for recreational use of land?

A property owner may owe a duty of care to more people than just those who are invited onto the property by the owner or who are there with permission. In a recent post, we discussed an exception to the usual premises liability rules that would make owners liable when the injured party is a child, even a child who is trespassing.

This post is not a complete review of the law of premises liability, nor is it offered as legal advice. Legal advice about premises liability involving recreational use, trip-and-fall or wet surfaces should only be obtained from an attorney.

State law gives some protection to Orange County owners who allow their property to be used for recreational purposes even when the injured party is there with the permission of the owner. California Civil Code Section 846 offers a long list of activities that fall into the category of recreational purpose. These include the following:

  • Hunting
  • Fishing
  • Camping
  • Water activities
  • Picnicking
  • Snowmobiling, dirt bike riding and other motor activities
  • Hang gliding

The list of activities includes several that might be considered as being hazardous or even dangerous, but the statute offers protection to property owners from lawsuits filed people suffering injuries during the activities. Essentially, a property owner who gives permission for use of land does not guarantee a person's safety, nor does the owner bestow upon the person the status of an invitee or licensee.

Normally, a licensee and invitee are owed a duty of care by a property owner, but not when the property is being used for recreational purposes. The protection that a property owner gets under the law is not without its limits.

Premises liability might still apply even in cases involving recreational use. The code section does not protect against negligent property owner lawsuits when an owner maliciously or willfully fails to protect or warn users against a dangerous property condition. There is also no protection if the property owner charged a fee or was otherwise compensated by the user of the property.

The law pertaining to liability for an accident related to recreational use of someone else's property is complex. For example, a property owner may lose the protection of the statute if, instead of merely giving permission for the use of the land, he or she invited people onto the property. 

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Law Offices of William W. Green & Associates
505 S. Villa Real
Anaheim, CA 92807

Phone: 714-464-6903
Toll Free: 866-543-7598
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