Expanded Lawsuit Immunity for Connecticut Cities, Water Districts

Normally, if a landowner fails to exercise reasonable care in correcting a dangerous condition on his or her property and another individual suffers injury as a result, the landowner can be held liable for appropriate damages. However, concern that the fear of unlimited liability would prevent landowners from allowing public access has prompted all 50 states to enact some form of recreational use statute.

In Connecticut, a new law is set to expand recreational use immunity to municipalities and water districts, two public entities not formerly afforded such a powerful legal shield.

Protection for Cities Could Leave Injured Parties Uncompensated

Connecticut's recreational use statute is relatively simple: any landowner who allows the public to use his or her property free of charge for recreational purposes is under no obligation to keep the land safe or to warn of danger. This generally means that absent willful or malicious conduct by the landowner, injured parties have no legal recourse against open-use recreational property owners.

Previously, Connecticut law only protected private landowners from premises liability under the recreational use statute, while sovereign immunity kept the state from being sued over injuries on public lands; in 1996, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that municipalities were not included in either liability exception.

This May, the Connecticut legislature voted nearly unanimously for a significant change. A bicycle accident that occurred on a trail near a West Hartford water reservoir spurred nearly a $3 million jury verdict against the Metropolitan District Commission, a public water supply organization. Fallout from the large verdict inspired lawmakers to pass a bill extending recreational land immunity to cities and water districts in Connecticut.

Not everyone approves of the new legislation. While recreational use immunity serves to encourage landowners to open up private property to the public, some argue that it is unfair to extend the privilege to cities that spend millions maintaining trails and parks at the expense of injured parties.

Some Exceptions

Recreational use immunity for cities is not absolute under the new law: municipalities may still be sued for injuries resulting from the negligent design or maintenance of playing fields, ball courts, or playgrounds. Still, under the updated liability scheme, many parties injured through no fault of their own will go uncompensated.

If you or a loved one has been injured, contact an attorney to find out how recreational use immunity may affect your case and what legal options remain open to you.