Thursday, June 9, 2011

Municipal Lands Open for Trails not Trials!

CT State Senate Passes Recreational Liability Reform!

Source: Connecticut Forest and Park Association

In the last hour of the legislative session, the Senate of the CT General Assembly passed H.B. 6557 ensuring that Municipalities will be better protected against frivolous lawsuits stemming from outdoor activities on 150,000+ acres of recreational lands. The House had passed this bill on May 17th, and final approval by the Governor is eagerly anticipated.

This new Law accomplishes so much:

1) Municipalities (including municipal entities like water companies, sewer districts, special districts like the MDC, etc.) have been restored as landowners under the Recreational Land Use Act (this landowner status and associated protections were lost in 1996);

2) Municipalities should gain confidence both to keep existing municipal lands open for public recreation, and to acquire/open new recreational areas. In general, Municipalities will be protected against liability on recreational lands as long as:
a. The land is provided to the public free of charge; and
b. The municipal landowner is not guilty of "willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity";

3) Due to the compromises necessary to get this legislation passed, the extra protection against liability for municipalities will not extend to "swimming pools, playing fields/courts, playgrounds, buildings with electrical service, or paved public through roads open to the public for four-wheeled private passenger motor vehicles". Those areas will remain covered under the municipal liability laws that have been used for the last 15 years;

4) Bicycling is now specifically included as a "Recreational Purpose" covered under the Recreational Land Use Act; and

5) There are no changes to the strong existing protections available under the Recreational Land Use Act for private landowners (individuals, corporations, private utilities, land trusts, etc.).

This is an enormous step forward both for protecting and increasing recreational land use opportunities in Connecticut!

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