Maryland’s recreational use statute (RUS) is designed to encourage property owners to make their land available to the public for educational and recreational use by limiting the property owner’s liability in certain circumstances. Maryland’s RUS can pose significant challenges to individuals that suffer injuries while visiting recreational properties. Under this statute, landowners that make their land available for recreational use do not owe their visitors a duty of care to keep their land safe or provide them warnings. In effect, landowners in these cases owe their visitors the same level of care that they would owe a trespasser. This means that landowners in these situations must only refrain from willful or wanton behavior that may hurt the visitor.
For example, in a recent opinion, an state appellate court addressed the defendant’s claim of immunity based on the state’s RUS. In that case, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against a university after a university employee hit her with a university-owned vehicle. The university argued that, amongst other issues, they were not liable under the RUS. The court found in favor of the university, finding that the RUS applied, and the university only owed her a duty to not engage in bad faith, malicious intent, and gross negligence.
Maryland’s RUS is broad, and injured plaintiffs must understand the impact that their classification has on the outcome of their case. The statute protects owners if they allow visitors on their land for “any recreational purpose.” This means that, for example, if a person suffers injuries at their neighbor’s house while riding their neighbor’s dirt bike, the neighbor may be able to assert the RUS to limit their liability.