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Are outdoor recreational facility owners liable for guest injury?

The possibility that an outdoor recreation facility's proprietor might face liability for a guest's injuries is dependent on multiple factors. The guidelines set in Illinois' Recreational Use of Land and Water Areas Act are meant to inform decisions fitting the individual circumstances related to accidents occurring on or after Jan. 1, 2014, which is when the 98th General Assembly made amendments to previous statutory rules for liability.

Section 4 of the statute sets broad protections for owners of facilities without admission fees. It clarifies that these owners are not automatically obligated by a duty of care to assure guests of complete safety on the premises or assume responsibility for injuries caused by a guest's actions or by various external factors.

Section 6 lists circumstances that can exclude an owner from civil immunity. According to this section, an owner might be held liable if a failure to inform or otherwise protect guests against hazards qualifies as "willful and wanton" behavior. Owners of facilities that charge admission are expected to uphold a duty of care. This is also expected of an owner if an injured plaintiff was specifically invited to the premises.

A hypothetical case could involve a person who badly breaks a leg after tripping over a hole along a park walkway. If the park charges no admission and is open to the public, a court is unlikely to consider its owners responsible for any premises liability. If the park is an amusement park or other location that charges an admission fee, however, a breach of the owners' duty of care may be considered if evidence indicates that a possible risk of injury to guests was known and no corrective action was taken or planned.

Source: Illinois General Assembly, Illinois Compiled Statutes, September 12, 2014

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