The Recreational Use of Land and Water Act limits the liability of property owners who open their land to the public for recreation. This guide describes the immunity provided to owners in regards to claims of personal injury and loss of property and reviews relevant case law.
An individual or organization’s risk of being held liable for personal injury or property damage may be shifted to another party who agrees to accept the risk and who holds liability insurance or sufficient assets to back up the acceptance of the risk. A release agreement guards against a successful lawsuit by the person signing the release; an indemnity agreement, in contrast, ensures that if some other person sues, the indemnifying party will be responsible for handling the claim.
The Act limits the liability of property owners who open their land for public recreation, providing them protections against claims of personal injury and property loss.
Public access to property for recreational uses–such as hiking, bird watching, fishing and hunting–raises concern about the possibility of liability on account of injury to a recreational user. Pennsylvania law provides some protection from liability associated with public use of property for recreational purposes. Also there are practical steps that can be taken to minimize risk of liability.
A properly designed release of liability form signed by a volunteer or participant in an activity can reduce liability risks of the organizing or hosting organization.
Some real property is substantially riskier than other property for an organization to hold and manage, perhaps because of environmental contamination (or suspicion of the same), perhaps because of more intense public use, perhaps for some other reason. Depending on just how great the perceived risk, the organization may want to consider isolating its exposure to that risk by establishing a separate organization—wholly controlled by the founding organization—to hold the riskier property.