Recreational Immunity Restored
Last year, an Oregon Supreme Court case (Johnson v. Gibson) threatened recreational immunity for landowners who make their lands available to the public free of charge. Recreational immunity, derived from the Public Use of Lands Act, was designed to protect landowners, both public and private, from liability should a person become injured while using the land for recreational purposes. The Oregon Supreme Court ruled that when the Legislature passed this act, it only immunized the actual landowner and not the employees, agents, and volunteers who act on behalf of the landowners.
As a result of this ruling, both public and private landowners faced increased liability causing substantially increased insurance premiums for this new risk exposure, thereby forcing them to reduce recreational opportunities and services, limit access, or entirely close their property to recreational use. This included areas like state forests/parks, county parks, open space, playgrounds, recreational facilities, irrigation district easements, public docks, gifted or undeveloped property used for hiking, biking, hunting etc., lakes/reservoirs used for boating and swimming, as well as farms, ranches and private forest lands.
This decision had a significant impact on special districts. SDAO took action and worked with a coalition of public and private property owners who introduced Senate Bill 327 during the 2017 Legislative Session to amend the Public Use of Lands Act (ORS 105.672) to restore recreational immunity. This amendment confirmed that a landowner’s officers, employees, agents, and volunteers would be covered when acting within the scope of their employment or duties.
As a result of the hard work of SDAO, our affiliates, cities, counties, and members, Senate Bill 327 passed unanimously in the Senate (30-0) and passed 54-4 in the House. On June 22, 2017, Governor Kate Brown signed the bill, effective upon passage.
Thank you to Mark Landauer with SDAO, Cindy Robert with Oregon Recreation and Parks Association (ORPA), ORPA members, Oregon School Boards Association, Oregon Forestry Industry Council, Association of Oregon Counties, Oregon Water Resources Congress, and all members of the Coalition to Restore Recreational Immunity. We want to especially thank our members who passed resolutions, made phone calls, and contacted their individual legislators to encourage them to vote yes this important issue.