It’s true that property owners in Florida owe a duty to ensure their grounds are safe for lawful guests.
However, those who are injured on property that is open to the public for free recreational purposes may have a tough time collecting. That’s because Florida’s Recreational Use Statute limits the liability of land owners who allow the public free use of land for recreation. The idea is to encourage those who own property to open it up for public access.
These protections also extend to government entities, like cities and counties, that parks and preserves for use by the public. There may be some situations in which the owner or third-parties may be liable, but it will depend on the circumstances.
Recently, in the case of Carlson v. Town of South Kingstown, a Rhode Island woman was denied compensation after review by the state supreme court.
According to court records, plaintiff was at a public park in July 2010, watching her son’s little league game. The game was scheduled and organized by little league, and the land was owned and maintained by the town.
After the game was over, plaintiff started walking toward her son from behind the batting cages. As she made her way over toward the concession stand, she felt her ankle suddenly fall into a divot in the ground. She suffered a fractured right leg in three different places.
A fellow parent and former assistant coach, who did not see the fall, later testified that he saw the divot on the surface, and it was about 8 inches across and 8-to-10 inches deep. He further characterized these holes as a repetitive problem, caused by players who dug their toes into the ground with the spikes of their baseball cleats while they were waiting for their turn to enter the batting cages.
Plaintiff sued both the town and the little league organization. Plaintiff alleged the organization should have checked the field to make sure it was safe before proceeding with the game.
The two filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting rights under the state’s recreational use statute. Last year, the Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed a trial court’s grant of that summary judgment motion.
But that still left the case against the little league organization.
It was noted that the town hired three, three-person crews to regularly check on the 17 parks located throughout the town. They had to mow the grass, pick up litter and check for damage to equipment and grounds. They made it out to each park at least twice a week.
After being notified of plaintiff’s fall and personal injury, it was the town that filled in the hole. The town director of parks and recreation services noted that while the town wasn’t aware of this particular hole, it wasn’t uncommon for there to be divots in the field near where this accident happened.
The league moved for summary judgment, asserting it had no duty of care to plaintiff because it was the town – not the league – that owned and maintained the property. Trial court granted the summary judgment, and the state high court affirmed.
Primary issue here: Who had control of the park? The league didn’t own, operate or control the park and it didn’t act to maintain it either. It didn’t pay the town for use of the park and exclusive control was retained by the town. Therefore, if anyone was going to be held liable, it was the town. Unfortunately, the Recreational Use Statute prohibited that action.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Carlson v. Town of South Kingstown, Feb. 5, 2016, Rhode Island Supreme Court
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