Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, June 19, 2009

Landowner Protection Along Trails

A great concern for landowners along prospective trails and recreation areas is liability. Pennsylvania has legislation specifically addressing this issue. Trail managers and landowners along trails often receive special protection from liability by state-enacted Recreational Use Statutes. Recreational Use Statutes (RUS), which are in effect in some form in all 50 states, limit the liability of landowners who allow the public to use their land for recreational purposes by limiting the landowner’s liability for recreational injuries when access was provided without charge. RUS’s alter common law tort principles for certain landowners who allow the public free use of their land for recreational purposes. A New York City sign (above).

Pennsylvania’s Statutory Protections for Trails
Pennsylvania has enacted a recreational use statute, which is called the Recreation Use of Land and Water Act (RULWA), 68 P.S. §§ 477-1 to 477-8 (2003). Under RULWA, "an owner of land owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for recreational purposes, or to give any warning of a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity on such premises to persons entering for such purposes," 68 P.S. § 477-3. However, liability is not limited "for willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity," 68 P.S. § 477-6(1). Liability is also not limited for injuries suffered if the owner charges for entry onto the land, 68 P.S. § 477-6(2). The law covers more than just pure "owners." Possessors, trail managers and lessors are protected, too. The RULWA is applicable to both public and private landowner.
Reference: Liability and Rail-Trails in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania’s Rails to Trails Act ( Pennsylvania Statute 32 P.S. § 5611 Rails To Trails Act1990 P.L. 748, No. 188, effective March 18, 1991) also limits liability for recreational trail use in a similar manner to Pennsylvania’s RUS. Liability is limited for the owner or lessee who permits trail use by the public under the Rails to Trails Act. Like the RULWA, the act applies to both private and public owners, and liability is not limited if there are any fees charged in connection with trail use or for "willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity."

Under (a) General rule, subsection (d), an owner or lessee who provides the public with land for use as a trail under this act or who owns land adjoining any trail developed under this act owes no duty of care to keep the land safe for entry or use by others for recreational purposes, or to give any warning to persons entering or going on that trail land of a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity thereon.

Under the act, Owner is, "Any person, public agency or corporation owning an interest in land utilized for recreational trail purposes pursuant to this act shall be treated as an "owner" for purposes of the act of February 2, 1966 (1965 P.L. 1860, No. 586), entitled "An act encouraging landowners to make land and water areas available to the public for recreational purposes by limiting liability in connection therewith, and repealing certain acts."
Trails adopt strategies to minimize the possibility of injuries on the trail, and some of these strategies are:
• design the trail for safety;
• use prominent signage to warn users of potentially dangerous areas;
• regularly inspect the trail and correct any unsafe conditions;
• prominently post hours of operation and other rules and regulations, along with emergency contact information.

A bicycle lane in Canberra, Australia.

These lanes are painted green where motorists and cyclists are more likely to experience conflicts, such as where traffic must cross the cycle lanes to turn left.

Trail users are key to these strategies, as they may be the first person to recognize a problem or arrive at a new hazard. They can report the need to repair, improve or restrict the trail until corrections can be made. The trail is a community project that asks participation from all to insure every one's enjoyment and safety.

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