Official Code of Georgia Title 51, Chapter 3, Article 2 (commonly known as the Recreational Property Act) limits the liability of landowners, when they make their land and water areas available to the public for recreational purposes. Specifically, “[A]n owner of land owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for recreational purposes or to give warning of a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity on the premises to persons entering for recreational purposes.”
By limiting the liability of a landowner, Georgia lawmakers took a sharp pivot from traditional notions of landowner liability. In most circumstances, a landowner or occupier has a duty to exercise ordinary care to keep their premises safe for business invitees. However, landowners are liable to social guests only for willful or wanton injury.
There are two major exceptions to the liability limitations provided under the Recreational Property Act. Landowners who are considering making their property available for public use should keep these exceptions in mind.
Exception 1: The Recreational Property Act does not apply when a landowner charges a fee for the use of land.
Exception 2: The Recreational Property Act will not protect a landowner who willfully or maliciously fails to guard against a dangerous condition.
Landowners also should remember that liability protections are only provided when the land is made available for a recreational purpose. Under Georgia law, “recreational purpose” includes, but is not limited to, hunting, fishing, swimming, boating, camping, picnicking, hiking, pleasure driving, aviation activities, nature study, water skiing, winter sports, and viewing or enjoying historical, archeological, scenic or scientific sites.
With cooler temperatures fast approaching, camping season gives us a good opportunity to showcase the difference between a landowner who is protected by the Recreational Property Act and one who is not. Suppose Jane Doe owns land with views of Kennesaw Mountain, and she allows the public to camp on her property. If Jane Doe allows families to camp for free, she enjoys the liability protections afforded by the Recreational Property Act. If Jane Doe charges a fee to camp on her land, she forfeits the liability protections.
If you are injured during a recreational activity, or if you are a landowner who makes your property available to the public for recreational purposes, make sure to familiarize yourself with the Recreational Property Act.
– Joel Williams is a partner at Williams|Elleby, a Kennesaw-based personal injury law firm. www.gatrialattorney.com.