In a recent case, the Court of Appeals of Washington reviewed a personal injury claim brought by a park visitor against the Port of Skamania County. In Hively v. Port of Skamania County (Wash. Ct. App. Apr. 4, 2016), the plaintiff was visiting one of the Port’s parks, Teo Park, when he tripped and fell on an asphalt path on the way to the restroom. The plaintiff brought suit against the Port for negligence. The Port moved for summary judgment on the ground that it was entitled to recreational use immunity, and the trial court granted the motion. The plaintiff appealed the trial court’s decision to the appellate court.
In Washington, there is a statutory exception to common law invitee premises liability, known as recreational use immunity. The purpose is to encourage landowners and those in lawful possession of land to make it available to the public for recreational purposes by limiting their liability. To be immune, the landowner must prove that the property is open to members of the public for recreational purposes and that no fee of any kind is charged.
In Hively v. Port of Skamania, the plaintiff conceded the first and second elements but argued that the Port charges a fee to cruise ships to dock and to parties who wish to exclusively rent Teo Park. On appeal, the court explained that a landowner may charge a fee to use part of its land but maintain immunity for the recreational use of the remainder of the land. However, the fee cannot be one charged for using the land or water area where the injury occurred. As a result, a landowner is not entitled to immunity when the place where the injury occurred is a necessary and vital part of the fee-generating area.