In these winter months of sledding, snowmobiling and frolicking in the snow, you might wonder if you could be held liable if someone is hurt while having some fun on your property. New York has a law for that! Section 9-103 of our state’s General Obligations Law, commonly known as the recreational use statute, recognizes the value and importance to New Yorkers of pursuing recreational activities, and encourages landowners to open their land for recreational use without fear of liability in most circumstances.
So if you open your property for certain outdoor activities throughout the year, whether or not your land is posted, you are immune from the usual duty to keep your property safe and may well be protected from liability. Protected recreational uses include hunting, fishing, canoeing, boating, trapping, hiking, cross-country skiing, tobogganing, sledding, spelunking, horseback riding, bicycle riding, hand gliding, dog training, motorized vehicle operation for recreational purposes, snowmobiling, cutting or gathering of wood for non-commercial purposes and even organized gleaning. If a person is engaged in one of those activities on land which is physically suitable for that purpose, you have no duty to keep the premises safe or to warn of hazardous conditions or activities, as long as you don’t willfully or maliciously fail to guard or warn against a dangerous condition on the property and you haven’t charged a fee for the privilege of coming on your property to engage in that activity.
What does this mean to you? If you allow the neighborhood kids to sled down your open hill and one is hit in the eye by a sharp stick in the snow, or allow snowmobilers to cross your property and one is hurt when he drives into a gate near the trail, you very likely cannot be held liable. So let those recreational “wonderers and wanderers,” spelunkers and gleaners go ahead and have some fun – you’re protected!