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Private Land + Public Recreational Use = Immunity (NJ)

January 21, 2016

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New Jersey’s Landowners’ Liability Act (“LLA”) provides immunity from certain liability suits to property owners whose land is open for the public’s use and enjoyment along the state’s waterfronts.  See N.J.S.A. § 2A:42A.  The LLA is New Jersey’s version of a recreation use statue (“RUS”) intended to encourage property owners to provide free public access for outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing, hiking and even simply walking in a waterfront park.  Although initially designed to provide incentive to owners of agricultural lands and woodlands to open up their lands to the public without fear of liability, the Act was broadened in 1991 to extend more generally to “premises” on both natural and improved property, even if part of a “commercial enterprise.”
In<em> Fujino Niiya v. Grand Cove Master Association, Inc</em>., a condominium association sought immunity in litigation for personal injuries by a woman who tripped and fell on an uneven paver along a walkway adjacent to the Hudson River.  Considered a part of New Jersey’s tidal waterways and its shores, the complex was obligated by regulations to maintain 24-hour public access to the riverside walkway. <em>See</em> N.J.A.C. § 7:7E-3:48(e).  The Association’s Board President testified that he personally walked on the sidewalk and premises multiple times every day to ensure the public’s safety.
The plaintiff testified that it “was a beautiful day,” so she decided to “take a little walk” with her granddaughter along the walkway by the river.  In granting summary judgment, the motion judge noted that this was “precisely the situation contemplated by the Legislature” in enacting the LLA.  The plaintiff had access to the walkway along the river because of the laws and regulations opening up otherwise private spaces to the public.  However, “a critical aspect of that public policy” was “to limit the liability of private developers who provide and maintain access for the public to enjoy the land abutting the Hudson River.”
The LLA is a little referenced immunity that offers protection to property owners who provide recreational opportunities to the public.  In this case, the judge recognized the policy of encouraging the public enjoyment of such private lands is well-served by enforcing its application.
Thanks to Ann-Marie Murzin for her contribution.
For more information, contact Denise Fontana Ricci at <a href=""><u></u></a>.


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