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Ohio Law Protects Property Owners from "Recreational User" Liability

Q: People want to use my land for fishing and hiking.  Does this mean I am liable if they are injured on my property?
A: 
Possibly, but Ohio has a “recreational user” statute that may give you immunity from legal liability if someone is harmed on your property during recreational activities. The law applies only to certain situations.

Q: In what circumstances would I have liability protection?
A:
 According to the recreational user statute, you would not be held liable for injuries if you, as the owner, lessee or occupant of the property gave permission to a person to use nonresidential premises for recreational activities, as long as you have not received a fee or benefit, other than a lease fee, for allowing the “recreational user” to use the property for recreational activities. 

Q: How does the recreational user statute give me immunity?
A:
 The law specifically states that if you, as an owner, lessee or occupant of nonresidential premises, give permission to a recreational user, then you do not have any duty to keep the premises safe, do not give promises of safety by granting permission, and do not assume responsibility or liability for injuries caused by any act of a recreational user.  This means that you have “immunity” from liability (legal responsibility).

Q: Must I give written permission to have liability protection under the recreational user statute?
A:
 The recreational user statute does not specify that you must give written permission to the recreational user.  At least one court in Ohio has determined that simply allowing a recreational use, without trying to prevent the use, is sufficient “permission” from a landowner.   Even so, you may have to prove that you granted permission to receive the law’s liability protection.

Q: Does the law require me to open my land to all persons for recreational activities?
A:
 No, the recreational user statute states that immunity applies “whether or not the premises are kept open for public use and whether or not the owner, lessee, or occupant denies entry to certain individuals.”

Q: What does the recreational user statute mean by “nonresidential premises”?
A:
 The Ohio legislature enacted the recreational user statute to encourage landowners to allow access for recreational pursuits on their private, open property.  The legislature did not intend, however, to provide immunity for harm suffered by guests in or around a private home, so the law does not apply to residences.  In addition to land, the term “premises” includes ways, waters, and buildings and structures on nonresidential land.

Q: What types of recreational activities does the recreational user statute address?
A: 
The law applies to a person who has permission to “hunt, fish, trap, camp, hike, or swim, or to operate a snowmobile, all-purpose vehicle, or four-wheel drive motor vehicle, or to engage in other recreational pursuits.”  Ohio courts have interpreted “other recreational pursuits” to include playing softball, riding horses and motorcycles, playing on swings, taking merry-go-round rides, and watching others swim or play baseball.

Q: If I receive a payment from the person who wants to use my property, do I lose the recreational user statute’s protection?
A: 
In only one situation may you receive a fee or benefit and have recreational user statute protection:  if you lease the land to a private person, firm or organization and receive a fee for the lease.   Otherwise, charging a fee or other benefit in exchange for the recreational activity will remove the law’s immunity protection.

Q: Does the recreational user statute apply to children on my property?
A:
 Yes, the law also applies where an owner, lessee or occupant gives children permission to use the land for recreational purposes.

Q: Does the law prevent a recreational user from suing me?
A:
 No, the recreational user statute does not prohibit a person from bringing a lawsuit against you.  If you use the statute as a defense and can prove that it applies to the situation, however, the court will dismiss the lawsuit.

Q: Where can I find Ohio’s recreational user statute?
A: 
You can find the statute in Sections 1533.18 and 1533.181 of the Ohio Revised Code, which is available in public libraries or on the Internet at http://codes.ohio.gov/.

3/15/2010

This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association.  It was prepared by attorney Peggy Kirk Hall, Agricultural & Resource Law Program, OSU Extension. 

Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.

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