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  1. #1
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    Court concludes Recreational Land Use Act does not protect trail builders

    The Michigan Court of Appeal in Duffy v. Irons Area Tourist Association, refused to extend Michigan Recreational Land Use Act (Act) protection to trail workers.

    In that case, Beverly Duffy was injured while riding an ATV on a public trail maintained by Ironís Area Tourist Association (Association). The trail was located on State land and maintained by the Association under a contract with the State. Ms. Duffy sued the Association for failure to properly maintain the trail (i.e., negligence). The Association moved for summary disposition (i.e., early dismissal of the case), arguing that it was entitled to protection under the Act, which exempts owners and lessees from liability for injuries to a person who is (1) on the land of another, (2) without paying to use the land for the recreational purpose, (3) unless the injuries were caused by the gross negligence (a very high standard) of the landowner or lessee of the land.

    The trial court dismissed the lawsuit reasoning that the Act also extends protection to entities that contract to provide trail maintenance even if they do not own or lease the underlying land. The Michigan Court of Appeals, however, disagreed and reversed the trial courtís decision. The Court of Appeals concluded that the words of the Act limit its protection to owners, tenants, or lessees of land, and since the Association was not an owner, tenant, or lessee of the land, it was not entitled to protection under the Act.

    This case does not mean that you should stop building trails performing trail maintenance. Rather, the take-away from this case is that you should (i) understand your obligations and the allocation of risks in your agreements, contracts, MOUs, etc. and (ii) carry insurance to protect against those risks.
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  2. #2
    FloridaKeys Fishing Guide
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    It looks to me that a waiver system would have protected the trail workers better. Every State is different, I know, but here in Broward County Florida, trail users must sign a waiver and watch a video explaining the do's and don'ts and that they are riding at their own risk. This protects the county and the trail crews from lawsuits by people who claim innocence and having no knowledge of trail conditions etc. If you are caught without the annual pass ($26.50) than you are considered a trespasser and have zero ground to stand on. Like I said each State is different, but it would behoove all trail worker and land managers to look into this..YMMV
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  3. #3
    Delirious Tuck
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    That's no fun. We had a similar case in CT a few years ago where someone sued for negligence against a land owner, plaintiff won, but it caused a massive change to the land use recreation statues (the trial lawyers and lobbyists fought like heck).

    I'm surprised that the IATA under their contract didn't have Tenancy or didn't have something that established them as the Owner's Agent.

    We're always worried about liability exposure and our LMs Legal teams have said that as long as we're communicating with them as to our actions, and they are approving, then we're covered under their umbrella. Perhaps Duffy didn't go after the owner because a lack of resources or tougher to prove case, whereas going after the IATA, there was a better chance of getting paid...

    Generally speaking, whenever we do work its with approval from the LM or in partnership with the LM, i.e. they're there with us as co-hosts. WE still use our waivers though for protection with ALL of the volunteers.

    Any idea what actually happened?

  4. #4
    mtbr member
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    Quote Originally Posted by thefriar View Post
    That's no fun. We had a similar case in CT a few years ago where someone sued for negligence against a land owner, plaintiff won, but it caused a massive change to the land use recreation statues (the trial lawyers and lobbyists fought like heck).
    This case involved maintenance of a public ORV trail by a ORV/snow mobile club, but it is certainly analogous to what we do.

    It is worth noting that the Court of Appeals simply determined that trial court was wrong in dismissing Duffy's lawsuit based on the Recreational Land Use Act. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial courtís dismissal and sent the case back to the trial court to determine if the Association was negligent in the performance of its maintenance obligations and thus liable for Duffyís injuries. Assuming the case is not settled, the scope of maintenance specified in the contract will be important.

    Quote Originally Posted by thefriar View Post
    Perhaps Duffy didn't go after the owner because a lack of resources or tougher to prove case, whereas going after the IATA, there was a better chance of getting paid...
    Apparently Duffy also sued the State of Michigan and the Michigan DNR. The Michigan Supreme Court held that her claims against the state were barred by governmental immunity.

    Quote Originally Posted by thefriar View Post
    WE still use our waivers though for protection with ALL of the volunteers.
    Waivers play an important role in risk management. Our workday waivers cover claims by volunteers resulting from injuries sustained while performing trail work, but they do not cover claims for injuries sustained while riding. We have separate event waivers that cover races and rides.

    Quote Originally Posted by thefriar View Post
    Any idea what actually happened?
    No, the only facts I have are from the court's opinion.
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