Washington encourages landowners to open their property up to recreational use by the public by providing immunity to the landowners. The statute provides that a landowner who does not charge any kind of fee to the public is not liable for “unintentional injuries” to members of the public using the property for recreational purposes. RCW 4.24.210. It is clear that injuries on land open exclusively for recreational purposes may fall under the statute and that injuries on land open exclusively for other purposes do not. It is less clear, however, whether immunity can apply when the injury occurs on land that is open to the public for mixed use.
A Washington appeals court addressed this issue in a recent case. The plaintiff was injured while riding her bicycle on a trail. She approached a lawn mower, operated by an employee of the county, and attempted to pass it. She raised her hand to shield her eyes from the debris from the lawn mower. In her deposition, she testified that she tried to veer to the left to get off the trail and clipped the bicycle being ridden by her niece. The plaintiff fell and was injured.
The county’s website described the trail as “a popular commuter route and recreational destination for bicyclists….” Likewise, the county’s Regional Trails Plan provided that the regional trails system would be used “for recreation and transportation….”