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Premises Liability and Recreational Immunity

WalkingIn California, premises liability law means that generally, property owners have a duty to exercise reasonable care to make sure their premises do not have known hazards that could cause injury to any person coming onto the land. If they do not take reasonable care to keep their property safe, they may be subject to liability if anyone is injured because of a dangerous condition on the premises. But California has a recreational immunity exception for people who enter land for recreational purposes.


Recreational immunity means that property owners have no duty to keep their premises safe or to warn about hazardous conditions when the visitor is entering the property for a recreational purpose. Recreational purposes include activities such as:

  • Fishing and hunting;
  • Camping;
  • Hiking;
  • Snowmobiling;
  • Rock collecting;
  • Nature study;
  • Gardening;
  • Hang gliding; and
  • Visiting historical, archaeological, scenic, natural, or scientific sites.

The purpose of the statute is to encourage landowners to permit the public to use their property for recreational purposes. By shielding them from liability in the event of an accident, the law presumably makes owners more likely to do so.

Initially, when courts decided whether recreational immunity applied in a certain situation, they would examine the character of the land and its suitability for recreation. For example, an open field would most likely qualify, but a construction site would not. Now, however, courts look at the actual use of the land, rather than the character. If a person goes rock collecting in a construction site, for example, the landowner may be eligible for recreational immunity.

Invited and Paying Guests

Immunity, however, does not extend to landowners who invite guests onto their property for recreational purposes. If a property owner expressly invites someone onto his or her land, and the visitor is injured by a dangerous condition on the property, the owner may still be liable. This includes social guests and others who have been expressly invited. For example, if a landowner invites a friend onto her property, and the friend goes hiking on the property, injuring himself because of a dangerous condition on the land, the landowner can be liable.

Additionally, the immunity does not cover visitors who pay for entrance to the property. For example, if a rollerblader is injured because of a dangerous condition at a roller rink, the owner of the roller rink will not be able to claim recreational immunity.

Willful Failure

A property owner is also unable to claim immunity if the owner maliciously or willfully failed to guard or warn visitors of the dangerous condition. To show the willful failure to protect guests, an injured visitor must show that the property owner:

  • Knew or should have known of the dangerous condition;
  • Knew or should have known that the condition would likely, not just possibly, cause injury; and
  • Consciously failed to act to avoid the danger.

Premises liability can be a complex area of the law, but an experienced attorney can help you determine whether you have a viable case. Please contact the skilled San Jose personal injury attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. for a free consultation.

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