Like many other states, Indiana premises liability law generally allows those injured on someone else’s property to file a civil negligence suit against the property owner. For example, if someone slips and falls on a wet floor in a grocery store, or trips on an uneven sidewalk in front of someone’s house, they likely have a potential negligence suit against the owner of the grocery store or house property. However, Indiana also has what is called a recreational-use statute, to insulate certain landowners from such claims. The law, which is in Indiana Code section 14-22-10-2, provides that landowners who allow those to use their property for recreational purposes—such as swimming, camping, or sightseeing—without charging a fee are not liable for the injuries occurring on the property.
For an example of a personal injury suit that would likely be barred by this statute, take a recent appellate opinion from Georgia, a state with a similar law. According to the court’s written opinion, a public park was used by a University to set up a free concert series. On the night in question, the plaintiff attended the concert with her sister, but as she was leaving, she fell backward on a staircase with no handrails, sustaining serious head injuries and ultimately dying. Her estate filed a wrongful death suit against the University group that held the concert, but the defendants claimed their suit was barred by the Georgia recreational use statute.
The question in the case was whether the defendant invited people to the park for recreational or commercial purposes. The plaintiffs attempted to argue that the concert served a commercial purpose, since the defendant invited vendors to sell food and drinks, and allowed sponsors to erect tents with their logos to promote their businesses. However, the defendants were able to convince the court that the purpose was recreational despite these facts, since concert-goers were not required to purchase food or drinks and could bring their own, and there was no fee charged for the concert. As a result, the deceased’s estate could not recover in a wrongful death suit against the University group, and in fact could not even bring the suit to court.