Maryland Court Holds Landowner Is Not Immune from Liability for ATV Accident

As a general rule, negligent landowners are liable to their guests for personal injuries caused by a dangerous condition on their property.  Maryland law allows few exceptions to this general rule, one of which is under its Recreational Use Statute.  In an April 29, 2020 Maryland personal injury case, the Court of Special Appeals considered whether the statute relieved a defendant of liability after the plaintiff suffered catastrophic injuries on his property.

The defendant in the case had constructed several all-terrain vehicle (ATV) courses on the property.  The land was not open to the public, and was used primarily by the defendant to store excavating equipment from his construction company and deposit dirt from construction sites.  However, the defendant hosted an event on the property for family and friends, including the plaintiff, and invited them to ride ATVs and dirt bikes.  While traversing one of the courses on the ATV, the plaintiff was thrown over the handlebars.  As a result of the accident, the plaintiff suffered a spinal injury that rendered him a quadriplegic.

The plaintiff sued the defendant for negligence, alleging that the accident occurred because of the defective design of the ATV course.  The circuit court eventually granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, concluding that he was immune under Maryland’s Recreational Use Statute.  The issue was then brought before the Court of Special Appeals.

The Maryland Recreational Use Statute limits the liability of landowners who, either directly or indirectly, invite or permit people to use their property for recreational or educational purposes without charge.  Essentially, the law provides qualified immunity for private owners willing to make their land freely available to members of the general public, on the theory that it is not reasonable to expect them to undergo the risks of liability for injury to strangers.  In the case, the central issue concerned whether the defendant had in fact made his property open to the general public by hosting the event.

On appeal, the court held that the defendant had not made his property open to the general public, even on a limited basis, by inviting a large number of guests to his event.  The court noted that access to the land was blocked off with a locked metal gate, and the warning signs posted prohibited public entry.  The court also explained that although the defendant had permitted others to use his property for recreational uses in the past, entry at the event was limited to friends and family members, which included the plaintiff.  Accordingly, the court went on to hold that the defendant was not immune from liability under Maryland law, and reversed the summary judgment of the lower court

Complex personal injury cases should be handled by qualified attorneys.  At Foran & Foran, our Maryland personal injury attorneys have the resources and experience to handle complicated litigation, including wrongful death actions and medical malpractice claims.  If you are seeking advice about a premises liability issue or negligence lawsuit, contact Foran & Foran online or call (301) 441-2022 to schedule a free consultation with one of our skilled lawyers.

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