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  1. #1
    Formerly PaintPeelinPbody
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    Local Government, Insurance, and Liablity on Public Land in Pennsyvlania

    I'd like to open a discussion about trail liability in Pennsylvania.

    I've approached quite a few property managers about building trails. Some could care less, others welcome it, and some give me what seems like default answer of "our insurance provider won't cover it, so liability is an issue."

    All across the country, we have varying degrees of "skills parks" that are on state, county, or municipal land. How do they get covered?

    What more interesting is how liability can range from not allowing volunteers to build trails, the whole way up to some local government sponsoring dirt jump and skate parks? How can you insure a skate park but not a more aggressive MTB trail?

    I attribute much of this to insurance provider and solicitor ignorance. Rather than go to length to try and figure out how to make a public amenity legal, they just say "derp, nope, cant do that."
    I do custom ArcGIS and Google Maps, including data collection and sustainable trail layout. Ride Welsh Mountain

  2. #2
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    I work in insurance, and more specifically I price insurance for pools of public entities some of whom are municipalities with skate parks. First of all, liability definitely is an issue. If someone gets hurt on the trails and it can be shown that it's due to a defect or maybe negligent maintenance, then he's going to be awarded damages. There are two ways an insurance company can handle this. One, they can say we're not going to cover skate parks, bmx tracks, mtb trails, etc. Or two, they can provide coverage and charge an appropriate premium. I think that when there isn't a lot of historical information on an exposure (for example in my area, there were no public skate parks until the 1990s) or when there's the perception that something is exceptionally risky; then the default position for large insurance companies is unfortunately often #1. However, the property manager could always get a separate cover from the excess & surplus market; which is better able to provide coverage for difficult or non-standard risks.

    Also, "the insurance company won't let us" is an easy way to say no but pass the blame on to someone else.

  3. #3
    Ride da mOOn Moderator
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    Cool-blue Rhythm

    PHeller...

    "Attractive nuisance"

    ...as you know we as trail builders have all heard that one about "Oh our insurance won't cover that activity" while down the road people jump horses, use guns at shooting ranges and travel on escalators at the mall.

    You know the mt bike perception started as a bunch of maniacs ripping down a dirt road or trail with wreckless abandon. That didn't help, nor did the X-games promoting that when most of us simply enjoyed riding around in the woods looking for air as we tried to gain strength, fitness and pleasure of the outdoors.

    I see it as a large entity like a county, ski area, land developer is hard to win a lawsuit against. You know the reason why, money backed by money can buy anything or protect themselves by designing loopholes for themselves from any lawyer!

    Another thing I have noticed is with the gas industry making land owners rich north of my area. The landowner now doesn't have that need to do anything, but sit back and collect rather than allowing trial builders to roam around their property making trails that will let people in to ride with the possibility of getting hurt and then sued.

    If you go through state or federal entities you are required to be a certified professional trail builder and covered under their blanket coverage.

    Another system they use is the operating group has a manager who is trained in trail building and assigns volunteers to do the work. You sign a waiver that they are not responsible for your getting hurt while doing the activity.

    Another thought is. The rouge trail builders who just go build with little standards or maintenance on any land they choose. Gives a bad light to those of us who took the time and money to attend schools to learn a correct path to follow. Pa has so much old coal lands that the original owners are long gone or bankrupt people just poach.

    Welcome to America, "Land of "hey what did you just do or say" I'm gonna sue!

    What's with the name change? I like PPP

    PS, Pa has always been know for "unions" why not start a trail builders union!...LOL

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by NEPMTBA View Post
    I see it as a large entity like a county, ski area, land developer is hard to win a lawsuit against. You know the reason why, money backed by money can buy anything or protect themselves by designing loopholes for themselves from any lawyer!
    The government just gives themselves protection/immunity by statute!

    Sovereign Immunity / Governmental Immunity in Pennsylvania

    Although I think trails would fall under exception #4. Still, damages should be capped at $250,000 per claimant and $1M in aggregate per incident.

  5. #5
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    BTW, someone come and build trails in Delaware State Forest! I've heard that the land manager is open to it and apparently there was an effort to get a project started, but it never went anywhere.

  6. #6
    VMB
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    http://www.pasnow.org/resource/RUWLA...sheetFinal.pdf

    Above is a link about the PA Recreational Land and Water use Act. I didn't read into it deeply but it basically states that landowners who open their property to outdoor recreation are not liable for anyone injured on their property.

  7. #7
    No Gansta Lean here.
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    It does seem like public/private partnerships are rare, but the few that have had success, thrive.

    Just thinking about it as I watched the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance-Duthie Hill mockumentary vid over on PB this AM. Being a big club to start helped a lot in the beginning of this project I am sure.
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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by kkies View Post
    http://www.pasnow.org/resource/RUWLA...sheetFinal.pdf

    Above is a link about the PA Recreational Land and Water use Act. I didn't read into it deeply but it basically states that landowners who open their property to outdoor recreation are not liable for anyone injured on their property.
    The Act does give liability protection, which is a defense. However, it does not prevent someone from filing a lawsuit. The rub is that it is the costs of the suit that hurts the property owner regardless of whether there is an actual verdict against them.

    White Clay has a nice skills section and numerous log rides, build ups, etc in their State Park. I know its DE, but ask the Trail Spinners how they were able to pull it off; they probably have a good starting point for how you would get the ball rolling.
    Buy the ticket, take the ride. -HST

  9. #9
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    Create a IMBA Chapter "BAMBA" like we recently did here in Reading Pa.you do pay a premium through IMBA but your covered for everything from trail maintenance to events.

  10. #10
    Formerly PaintPeelinPbody
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    Correct me if I'm wrong, but it is my understanding that IMBA's insurance protects the club from liability if someone is injured while performing trail maintenance or improvements, and it protects the club from liablity if someone is injured during an event, but does it protect the club or landowner from liability during a multiple-party lawsuit when a trail, built by volunteers, is accused of being responsible for injuring a rider (or hiker, or horse)?
    Last edited by PHeller; 02-22-2013 at 09:23 AM.
    I do custom ArcGIS and Google Maps, including data collection and sustainable trail layout. Ride Welsh Mountain

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by PHeller View Post
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but it is my understanding that IMBA's insurance protects the club from liability if someone is injured while performing trail maintenance or improvements, and it protects the club from liablity if someone is injured during an event, but does it protect the club or landowner from liability during a multiple-party lawsuit when a trail, built by volunteers, is accused of being responsible for injuring a rider (or hiker, or horse)?
    Correct, but the landowner's General Liability policy would cover that situation.

    I actually talked to a public entity underwriter about this yesterday for nearly an hour. Hiking/biking trails are just something that she's not terribly concerned about. She would ask some questions, like do the trails run close to a cliff without a railing, is there appropriate signage, etc. And giving the "wrong" answer to these questions would not be a deal breaker, we would just offer loss control recommendations. In fact, I found out that we provide coverage for some DH race or festival in CO each year. She didn't know the specifics off-hand, but described it as "extreme mountain biking."

    I think "our insurers won't allow it" is either a lazy answer, or a way of telling you no but giving someone else the blame. After all, everyone hates insurance companies.

  12. #12
    Formerly PaintPeelinPbody
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    Quote Originally Posted by bloodninja View Post
    Correct, but the landowner's General Liability policy would cover that situation.

    I actually talked to a public entity underwriter about this yesterday for nearly an hour. Hiking/biking trails are just something that she's not terribly concerned about.

    I think "our insurers won't allow it" is either a lazy answer, or a way of telling you no but giving someone else the blame. After all, everyone hates insurance companies.
    And we're pretty confident that this isn't a case where some insurers are more concerned than others?
    I do custom ArcGIS and Google Maps, including data collection and sustainable trail layout. Ride Welsh Mountain

  13. #13
    MaverickMotoMedia.com
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    this might be good to x-post over in the New Jersey bbs. The folks at JORBA have quite a bit of experience with state/local governmental partnerships.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by PHeller View Post
    And we're pretty confident that this isn't a case where some insurers are more concerned than others?
    Oh, I'm sure some are more concerned than others. But it's just not something that is going to be a big deal in general.

  15. #15
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    So then we're left with the question of:

    What do we do when a land manager of public land is being lazy and is uninformed?

    I personally think the best approach is go whatever board the government official is responsible to. Having worked in government, I typically found that most average councils, supervisors, parks boards, etc, wanted the public to use public land.
    I do custom ArcGIS and Google Maps, including data collection and sustainable trail layout. Ride Welsh Mountain

  16. #16
    Formerly PaintPeelinPbody
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    Bump.

    Local trail build by volunteers was closed because the parks department didn't like natural features being used as drops and jumps. Then some misguided folks built some small dirt jumps and birms and that sealed the fate of the poor trail.
    I do custom ArcGIS and Google Maps, including data collection and sustainable trail layout. Ride Welsh Mountain

  17. #17
    MaverickMotoMedia.com
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    Same thing is happening in the Philly suburbs in NJ. It all boils down to poor communication between the government and the trail builders; rogue trail construction makes matters worse.
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  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gigantic View Post
    Same thing is happening in the Philly suburbs in NJ. It all boils down to poor communication between the government and the trail builders; rogue trail construction makes matters worse.
    what trails have been closed recently in Philly/suburbs?
    Buy the ticket, take the ride. -HST

  19. #19
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    regarding insurance: it's only a half a$$ed excuse. There are definitely insurance co's out there that will insure bike parks and trails. The problem is funding.

    If Catty Woods and POSH* can operate legally (translation: insured) there's absolutely no reason it can't be done for MTB trails. And that includes trails with gravity and freestyle oriented features. The advantage the MTB side of things have is that we already have a trail advocacy group (IMBA) with established framework.

    *Note: Catty and POSH are both long established bmx trail jump systems (ie big jumps) in the Lehigh Valley. Both legalized back in 2009 and '10, respectively. Interesting read here on the topic:

    The Friday Interview: The Story of Legalizing Catty Woods & Posh with Mike Gentilcore | Features, Interview | TransWorld RIDE bmx

  20. #20
    MaverickMotoMedia.com
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    Ceres in Jersey and Smedley in Media/Springfield PA have both had man-made features removed without warning from the authorities.
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  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by PHeller View Post
    Bump.

    Local trail build by volunteers was closed because the parks department didn't like natural features being used as drops and jumps. Then some misguided folks built some small dirt jumps and birms and that sealed the fate of the poor trail.
    Let's be honest man made features like drops and jumps are a gray area on Parks land,it is multi-use and and public land,you can't please all of the people all of the time! but there is hope! start a IMBA chapter and this will go along way to opening doors and possibilities for skills designated areas.we here at BAMBA in a relatively short time have been given the authority to peruse and build a skills park area on a previously renegade DH/FR section of city parks land which will include table tops,pump track,wall ride,log rides and other natural challenging features....it is possible to get these kind of projects accomplished with the right kind of backing like IMBA and some very dedicated and enthusiastic Mtn bikers to pave the way!

  22. #22
    Formerly PaintPeelinPbody
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    I'm a BAMBA member, so it's nice to know my fees are going to something worthwhile.

    Does this mean that unless a club is an IMBA Chapter that insuring more aggressive trails is the only way such trail will ever be legally built?

    There has to be another way.
    I do custom ArcGIS and Google Maps, including data collection and sustainable trail layout. Ride Welsh Mountain

  23. #23
    No Gansta Lean here.
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    Quote Originally Posted by PHeller View Post
    I'm a BAMBA member, so it's nice to know my fees are going to something worthwhile.

    Does this mean that unless a club is an IMBA Chapter that insuring more aggressive trails is the only way such trail will ever be legally built?

    There has to be another way.
    Probably reverting back on the subject but being lazy and not re-reading the whole thread....
    Anyone contact the Delaware Trail Spinners to see how the White Clay section was accomplished?
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  24. #24
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    Always create a go-around for TTF's or put TTF's off of the main trail. Fahn

  25. #25
    Formerly PaintPeelinPbody
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eastcoaster View Post
    Anyone contact the Delaware Trail Spinners to see how the White Clay section was accomplished?
    Good question. Different state, on state property, lots of signage and disclaimers posted at the entrance helps.
    I do custom ArcGIS and Google Maps, including data collection and sustainable trail layout. Ride Welsh Mountain

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