Court Rejects City’s Assertion of Government Immunity in Recent Premises Liability Case

Earlier this month, an appellate court in Illinois issued an opinion in an interesting case that presents relevant issues to victims who are considering filing a Virginia premises liability case against a government entity. Specifically, the case deals with the state’s recreational use statute and whether the trail where the plaintiff was injured was covered under the statute. Ultimately, the court concluded that the “mixed-use” trail at issue was not covered under the statute, and thus immunity did not apply.

Biking TrailThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured while biking on a mixed-use trail. Evidently, an area of the pavement became cracked after weeds and other vegetation grew up through smaller cracks. The result was a bumpy patch of pavement.

As the plaintiff was riding in a group with her friends, one of the bicyclists ahead of her fell off her bike after running over the bumpy pavement. The plaintiff was unable to avoid a collision with her friend and ended up falling off her bike as well. She sustained serious injuries in the fall and filed a premises liability lawsuit against the city responsible for the maintenance of the trail.

The city argued that it was entitled to absolute immunity under the state’s recreational use statute, which provides that “neither a local public entity nor a public employee is liable for an injury caused by a condition of … Any hiking, riding, fishing or hunting trail.” The lower court agreed and granted summary judgment in favor of the city, and the plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the lower court’s decision was reversed. The state’s high court explained that by mentioning “hiking, riding, fishing, or hunting trail” in the statute, the legislators intended for immunity to only apply in accidents occurring on those types of trails. Specifically, the court held that immunity was meant to apply to “primitive, rustic, unimproved” trails. Here, the court concluded that the trail where the plaintiff was injured was more properly considered a “mixed-use” trail because it was paved and had a painted center line to divide the directions of traffic. The trail was also used by the electric company to access power lines. As a result, the court determined that the city was not entitled to immunity and that the plaintiff’s case should proceed.

Virginia’s Recreational Use Statute

Under Va. Code 29.1-509, landowners are provided immunity from liability related to injuries occurring on their property while the injured party was on the property for “hunting, fishing, trapping, camping, participation in water sports, boating, hiking, rock climbing, sightseeing, hang gliding, skydiving, horseback riding, foxhunting, racing, bicycle riding or collecting, gathering, cutting or removing firewood, for any other recreational use.” However, to establish immunity, the landowner must be able to show that they did not charge a fee for the usage of their land and that they were not grossly negligent in failing to warn the injured party about the danger.

Have You Been Injured in a Virginia Park or Government Building?

If you or a loved one has recently suffered back injuries or other serious forms of harm while on government property, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a Virginia premises liability lawsuit. While issues of immunity may arise in some situations, the burden is on the defendant to establish immunity in most cases. The skilled personal injury lawyers at the law offices of Charles B. Roberts & Associates have extensive experience handling all types of Virginia personal injury cases, including slip-and-fall cases. Call 703-491-7070 to schedule a free consultation with an attorney today.

See More Blog Posts:

Court Mandates Enforcement of Arbitration Clause in Recent Nursing Home Case, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, November 13, 2017.

Discovery Sanctions in Virginia Personal Injury Cases, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, November 27, 2017.