By: Law Office of Denise Adkison-Brown

Navigating Personal Injury Claims for Accidents Occurring in Public Parks or Recreational Areas

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The Complicated Reality of Injuries on Public Land

When a person is injured on someone else’s property, they’re often entitled to compensation for their injuries. This is typically a straightforward process when such injuries occur on private property, but things can get more complicated on public land.

Navigating personal injury claims for accidents occurring in public parks or recreational areas can be a challenging endeavor.

That’s because these public areas are usually owned by the government. Since it’s in the best interest of every local, state, and federal government to protect themselves, there are often laws in place that minimize the ability of injury victims to receive compensation. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be able to secure substantial monetary recovery.

Put simply, you just need to know how to navigate the system.

Gathering Evidence Is Absolutely Critical

After suffering an injury on public land, you may eventually encounter hurdles in recovering compensation. However, that’s a concern for the future. For now, your focus should be building a case. The moment a person is injured, they need to immediately start thinking of establishing an evidentiary chain. Fortunately, the first link in this chain is simply seeking medical care — which you should do even if your injuries seem minor.

By seeking medical attention, you’ll garner documentation of your injuries that will serve as direct evidence of the harm you experienced. However, there are some steps that you should take even prior to seeking medical help if possible. For instance, gathering evidence can start wherever you are injured. If you’re able and doing so is safe, take pictures and videos of the entire accident scene.

Make sure images show any hazards or conditions that contributed to your accident. It’s also ideal to seek witness information and statements. Ensuring you have sufficient evidence to file a claim should also involve reporting the incident.

Notify relevant authorities (e.g., park management, local police) and obtain a copy of the incident report.

Could Government Immunity Come Into Play?

One of the biggest issues encountered by individuals navigating personal injury claims for accidents in public parks or recreation areas is governmental immunity. In many instances, you may find that the liable government entity has sovereign immunity. This can greatly limit or even outright bar injury claims against them.

However, this immunity is not always absolute. In many jurisdictions, there are exceptions for certain types of negligence.

This is why you should never assume that you don’t have a valid case. It’s typically advisable to first speak with a personal injury attorney. They usually offer free consultations, and they can help you understand if sovereign immunity applies.

Of course, it’s possible that you may have already reviewed the tort claims act that’s relevant to your jurisdiction. Maybe a lawsuit against a jurisdiction isn’t likely to succeed. Fortunately, even full governmental immunity doesn’t mean financial recovery isn’t possible. In many instances, third-party liability may exist for individuals and entities unrelated to the government. Your lawyer can help determine if this is the case.

Issues That Could Harm Your Case

When navigating personal injury claims for accidents in public parks or recreational areas, it’s important to understand that the liable parties in your case are not on your side. This is true regardless of whether you’re dealing with the government, third parties, or insurance companies. They will do everything possible to minimize or eliminate your potential financial recovery.

That’s why it’s critical to understand and pay attention to potential issues that could harm your case:

Establishing Liability

In premises liability cases, it’s not enough to simply show that you were injured on another party’s property. It’s necessary to prove that the responsible party committed a wrongful act — and that this wrongful act was the direct cause of your injuries.

In legal terms, this means determining that an injury was caused by the breach of a duty of care. For instance, perhaps the government had a duty to remove hazards from a park road and failed to do so.

Statute of Limitations

Keep in mind that all personal injury cases have a statute of limitations. This is essentially a deadline to file a case, and if this deadline passes, the injured party typically forfeits their right to compensation. Unfortunately, navigating personal injury claims in accidents on public land can be even more complicated — because the statute of limitations is often reduced for claims against government entities.

Assumption of Risk

Some jurisdictions have passed recreational use statutes that protect landowners from liability if they allow free use of their land. These statutes typically apply to both private and government land. Additionally, a person’s access to compensation may be minimized if they engaged in a recreational activity that involves known risks to safety (e.g., swimming, hiking, etc.).

Shared Negligence

In some cases, the injured individual may share some level of liability with the responsible party. Such shared negligence can create problems. States that practice contributory negligence could bar victims from recovering any compensation. However, comparative negligence states still allow recovery — but compensation is typically reduced by the victim’s own level of fault.

Is It Possible to Stay Out of Court?

When someone suffers a serious injury due to another party’s wrongful acts, they often worry about being dragged through court. In many cases, their top concern is whether they can afford an attorney for a trial. However, they shouldn’t worry about this since most personal injury lawyers only get paid if they secure compensation for their clients.

Still, it’s often preferable to stay out of court — and doing so is very possible with settlement negotiations. By accepting a settlement, you can avoid lengthy litigation and secure compensation much quicker. However, don’t make the mistake of accepting the first offer you receive. This will typically result in an unfair settlement.

In reality, you should let your personal injury attorney handle these negotiations for you. They can work to maximize your financial recovery, and they can handle litigation on your behalf when negligent parties and their insurers refuse to properly compensate you. At the Law Office of Denise Adkison-Brown, PLLC, we’ll fight to secure a favorable outcome on your behalf.

Contact us at 713-804-8520 for help navigating personal injury claims for accidents in public parks and recreation areas.