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Court Holds City Employee Not Entitled to Immunity in Premises Liability Case

Posted in Firm News

Earlier this month, an appellate court in Oregon issued a written opinion in a premises liability case filed against a city employee, holding that the employee was not entitled to immunity under that state’s “recreational use” statute. In the case, Johnson v. Gibson, the court determined that the employee was not properly considered an “owner” of the land, and therefore he was not entitled to the immunity afforded to landowners who allow the public to use their land for recreational purposes.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff, Johnson, was injured when she stepped into a hole while jogging in a public park. The hole had been dug by the defendant, Gibson, in the course of his employment as the city employee charged with maintaining the park. Gibson dug the hole to fix a sprinkler that had previously malfunctioned. Johnson filed a lawsuit against Gibson, as well as his supervisor, Stilton, arguing that their collective negligence in leaving the hole unattended resulted in her tripping and getting injured.

The case was filed in a federal trial court. However, since the accident occurred in Oregon, the federal court was required to apply Oregon law. So the federal court paused the case and asked the Oregon court for advice on interpreting the Oregon recreational use statute that was at issue in the case.

The Court’s Decision

The Oregon court began by noting that under the state’s recreational use statute, a landowner who opens up his land for the recreational use of the general public is not generally liable for injuries sustained by the public. However, here, the court determined that Gibson, as a city employee, was not a “landowner” as contemplated by the statute.

The court explained that one factor in determining whether a person is an “owner” of land is whether the person occupied the land. However, traditionally, an owner not only has the right to occupy the land but also has the right to exclude others from the land should he or she choose. Here, Gibson was merely an employee of the landowner, and he had no right to exclude members of the public from the land. Thus, he should not be considered a landowner under the terms of the statute. As a result of this ruling, the plaintiff’s case will be permitted to proceed towards trial.

Premises Liability Cases in New Mexico

As a general rule, the owners of land have a duty to keep their land safe for those who use it. This certainly applies to anyone whom the landowner explicitly invites onto their land, such as houseguests and customers in a retail establishment. However, the duty can also extend to unknown members of the public in some situations as well. These cases tend to be a bit more difficult, since laws like the recreational use statute may come into play. Similarly, if the injury occurred on public land, there may be the issue of official immunity that could act to prevent a plaintiff from recovery. The best way to proceed if you think you may have a case is to discuss your injuries with a qualified New Mexico premises liability attorney.

Have You Been Injured on the Land of Another?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured while on the land of another, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. If the land belonged to a city or state government, immunity may be an issue that could prevent recovery. However, immunity will not be present in every case, and it is not automatic. To learn more about New Mexico slip-and-fall accidents, and to speak with an attorney about your case, call the Fine Law Firm at 505-889-FINE today to set up a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

State Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Accident Victims Injured at Gas Station Walk-Up Window, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, March 1, 2016.

FDA Issues a “Black Box” Warning for Birth-Control Device Essure, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, March 17, 2016.