Cultural Enrichment at a Price – How Does the Georgia Recreational Property Act Apply to An Injury Claim at a “Free to the Public” Event?
If you attend a free concert in a public place and are injured while on the premises, who is liable for your injuries? If nobody is benefiting financially for the free recreational opportunity, are the venue and the concert organizers under any obligation to protect you from hazard?
In Georgia there is a law that protects property owners when they make their land available for recreational use by the public. It’s called the Recreational Property Act and was originally created to eliminate liability risks to landowners in return for allowing the land to be used for recreational – fishing, hunting, swimming, and other enjoyment purposes. This serves to free-up desirable outdoor space that might otherwise be locked away from the public. The idea is a good one, but should any land-owner be excused from liability when people are injured as a result of their lack of care and ordinary concern?
In the case of Mercer Univ. v. Stofer, Ga. App. 17A1515 (2018) we see this question explored thoroughly.
A woman and her sister attended a free concert sponsored by a local university. The event was free of charge although there were vendors present selling items for profit.
The women parked their car and walked to the area where the concert was being held. They made their way down a concrete stairway which had a handrail for just the upper section of stairs.
Later, when the women left the concert, they entered the stairway from the lower level where the handrail was not present. One of the two women fell, striking her head on the concrete. She suffered severe bleeding and never again regained full consciousness. She fell into a coma and eventually was removed from life support, according to her wishes in an advance directive. She died on August 28, 2014.
The woman’s children and her estate filed a wrongful death suit against the University for negligence and property liability.
The school made a motion for summary judgment – dismissing the case because they claimed the University was immunized from the claims via the Recreational Property Act. Their motion was partially denied because the trial court believed there were still to be questions a jury had to decide. The school requested that the Georgia Court of Appeals review the trial court’s decision before the trial could proceed.
The University argued that its purpose in inviting the public to the free concert was solely recreational, the plaintiffs countered saying that because, among other things, private vendors sold food and alcohol at a profit and the university derived revenue from corporate sponsorships, that Mercer’s purpose in holding the concert series was to promote its own public relations interest and stature, as well as the commercial interests of businesses that serviced the attendees.
According to the Top Court in Georgia when determining RPA protection, “The important criterion is the purpose for which the public is permitted on the property. If the public is invited to further the business interests of the owner — e. g., for sales of food, merchandise, services, etc. — the RPA will not shield the owner from liability even though the public receives some recreation as a side benefit.”
The appellate court determined that questions existed as to the university’s purpose for holding the free concert series, which the jury must assess via objective evidence. They must still conclude whether or not the university knowingly obtained, directly or indirectly, financial benefits for the purpose of pecuniary gain from business interests on the property as a result of its decision to invite or permit the public without charge to enter the property. There are also questions about the university’s responsibilities for maintenance on a facility that can be accessed by the public. Handrails, for example, are practically always required by Federal Law in public places. We think the trial court and the appellate court were correct in not granting this summary judgment.
The higher court ruled in favor of the dead woman’s family and estate in this case. The case was not dismissed and the trial continued.
We tell this story so that we can help you understand that you may not always be safe out there in the real world. When you get injured, there may not be an insurance net, or a university with deep pockets to catch you when you fall.
If and when somebody else’s negligence causes you harm, you need a personal injury expert on your side. Often, matters of law are so detailed that even the placement of a single word in a complaint can totally change the complexion of a case. This can be a huge factor when somebody’s entire life has been altered by somebody else’s lack of concern.
Allow the legal staff at The Millar Law Firm to review the facts in your case. The evaluation is free, and we think it will help you to know how to move forward. Let us help you recover what you’ve lost.