Municipal Immunity For Injuries Or Death During Recreational Activities

There’s been recent talk in Des Moines about the city’s attempts to immunize itself from sledding injuries.   Currently, towns, cities, and counties have no statutory immunity from sledding-related claims.  But they do have immunity from certain types of personal injury or wrongful death claims involving other recreational activities.
One immunity protects municipalities from claims that a recreational facility (for example, a skate board ramp in a park) was improperly designed.  That immunity covers “any claim based upon or arising out of a claim of negligent design or specification, negligent adoption of design or specification, or negligent construction or reconstruction of a public facility designed for purposes of skateboarding, in-line skating, bicycling, unicycling, scootering, river rafting, canoeing, or kayaking that was constructed or reconstructed, reasonably and in good faith, in accordance with generally recognized engineering or safety standards or design theories in existence at the time of the construction or reconstruction.”  You’ll note that this immunity applies regardless of what the injured person was doing in the facility.  So if you decide to use a skateboard ramp in a city park as some sort of jogging/climbing facility and hurt yourself, the municipality may have immunity even though you weren’t using the skate ramp for its intended purpose.
You can see that there are a few ways to try to argue around the immunity for recreational facilities.  You could claim that the facility wasn’t designed for one of the specified types of recreational activities.  Or you could contend that the recreational facility wasn’t created within existing standards or theories.
A related immunity focuses on the injured person’s activities, rather than the facility where the injury occurred:  “Any claim based upon or arising out of an act or omission of an officer or employee of the municipality or the municipality’s governing body by a person skateboarding, in-line skating, bicycling, unicycling, scootering, river rafting, canoeing, or kayaking on public property when the person knew or reasonably should have known that the skateboarding, in-line skating, bicycling, unicycling, scootering, river rafting, canoeing, or kayaking created a substantial risk of injury to the person and was voluntarily in the place of risk.  The exemption from liability contained in this subsection shall only apply to claims for injuries or damage resulting from the risks inherent in the activities of skateboarding, in-line skating, bicycling, unicycling, scootering, river rafting, canoeing, or kayaking.” 
This immunity for recreational activity injuries applies regardless of where the listed recreational activities occurred.  So a skateboarder who uses the stairs and railings of a park pavilion will have to get around this immunity even though the person wasn’t on a skate ramp.   Of course, if the injuries occurred on a skate ramp, then the skateboard would encounter both types of immunity — one for recreational facilities (discussed above) and one for recreational activities.
Again, there are ways around the immunity for recreational activities.  It only applies to certain recreational activities.  There has to be an assumption of and knowledge of risk.  And the injuries have to be caused by the “risks inherent” in the recreational activity.
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