Personal Injury Liability: Public Parks

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Can Local Governments Be Held Liable for Injuries to People In Public Parks?

It depends. The majority of states consider public parks to be part of the local government's job of promoting the health and welfare of the general public. As a result, these states consider public parks to be a government activity, which prevents liability for any injuries that occur on the premises. 

In contrast, a good number of states require local governments to keep public parks reasonably safe for patrons, and impose liability in the case of injury. Many of these states consider public parks to be a permissive (i.e. optional) benefit given by local government, which necessarily obliges them to keep the parks well-maintained and free from significant dangers.

Why Does the Distinction Between Government Activity and Permissive Benefit Exist?

Courts generally do not want to interfere with a local government's ability to do its job, and therefore will not honor lawsuits having to deal with local government activities.

As stated above, some states consider public parks to be part of a local government?s job to provide for the good of its citizens. However, a local government is less likely to build a park if it?s open to being sued for every injury that occurs on the premises.  Therefore, in order to encourage the local government to carry out its duties, some states label public parks as a government activity, providing immunity against injuries that occur on park grounds.

On the other hand, some states recognize that local governments stand to gain from creating public parks (e.g. increased land value, city reputation, etc.). Thus, these states consider public parks to be a permissive benefit that local governments build for their own profit or gain. As a result, local governments in these states are treated much like private businesses.  More specifically, just as private businesses are obligated to protect the safety of their customers, local governments must also protect the safety of people that use public parks.

Can State Laws Affect a Local Government's Liability for Injuries In Public Parks?

 Yes. In fact, many states have specific laws in place that make local governments liable for injuries in public parks due to negligence. This is even true for some states that consider public parks to be a government activity.

What Areas of a Public Park Does a Local Government's Liability for Injury Extend To?

A local government can be liable for anything within the park grounds. Various cases have found liability for injuries occurring on playgrounds, basketball courts, baseball fields, skateboard parks, and even public pools. 

How Can a Lawyer Help Me?

If you suffered injury while using facilities in a public park, you should contact a personal injury attorney to learn about any possible legal options you may have. Because public park liability laws differ from state to state, a lawyer is essential in determine what laws apply to your case. In addition, an attorney may be able to refer to cases similar to yours, and gauge the possible success of your claim.

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Last Modified: 09-10-2013 05:02 PM PDT

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