Going On Someone Else’s Land : Part 1

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Q: My son hit a guardrail while sledding on a neighbor’s hill.  We want to sue the owner.  What are our chances?

A: New York has something called the ‘recreational use’ statute, General Obligations Law § 9-103.  It provides that a property owner owes no duty to keep his or her property safe for hunting, fishing, canoeing, boating, trapping, hiking, cross-country skiing, tobogganing, sledding, exploring caves, horseback riding, bicycle riding, hang gliding, snowmobile operation, dog training and a few other activities.

The purpose of the statute is to encourage a property owner, who might otherwise fear a lawsuit, to permit people to come on the property to engage in the specified recreational activities.  The protections to the property owner apply if a recreation-seeker is injured while engaged in one of the specified activities on land that is ‘suitable’ for that activity.

The idea underlying section 9-103 is simple enough: outdoor recreation is good; New Yorkers need suitable places to engage in outdoor recreation; more places will be available if property owners do not have to worry about lawsuits when someone comes onto the land to have the recreation.  For the reason that there is no point in opening private or public lands that is not suitable, protection is extended only to owners of property ‘suitable’ for statutory activities.

Here, your child was engaged in sledding, a specified activity under the statute.  The court will have to determine whether your neighbor’s property was physically ‘suitable’ for the sledding.  The court will ask whether sledders have used this property over the years.  It is not necessary that the property be located in an area that is wilderness, remote or undeveloped.  It could be tough for you to clear the hurdle of section 9-103.

No one should think that section 9-103 gives outsiders a right to come upon another person’s property.  No.  All issues of trespassing aside, the statute addresses merely the relationship between the parties once an accident has occurred.  If the recreational activity falls within section 9-103, then the outsider was proceeding at his or her peril and has a tough time suing.

By: Scott Baron,
Attorney at Law Advertorial

The law responds to changed conditions; exceptions and variations abound. Here, the information is general; always seek out competent counsel. This article shall not be construed as legal advice.

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