HomeOregon NewsOregon's Senate Bill proposes expansion of recreational immunity amid lawsuits

Oregon’s Senate Bill proposes expansion of recreational immunity amid lawsuits

Oregon – The debate over public access to Oregon’s trails and pathways is at a critical juncture, with the potential redefinition of “recreation” in state law poised to significantly influence local governments’ liability and, consequently, the public’s access to these natural resources.

Legislative Efforts to Redefine Recreation

The Senate Committee on the Judiciary deliberated on Senate Bill SB 1576-3 on Monday. The bill aims to broaden the scope of activities classified as recreation under the state’s “recreational immunity” law. Specifically, it seeks to include walking, running, and bicycling within its framework. This change is designed to shield local governments from lawsuits arising from injuries sustained on both public and private walkways leading to recreational areas, as well as on the trails, paths, bridges, and land intended for recreational use.

The proposal has garnered substantial support from a wide array of stakeholders, including government officials, coastal tourism and business associations, and conservation groups. Over 130 entities have submitted written testimonies in favor of the bill, highlighting the crucial need for a legislative fix to ensure continued public access to Oregon’s natural beauty.

Dan Haag, from the Tillamook Coast Visitors Association, emphasized the importance of trail and beach access as a quintessential part of the Oregonian identity. Similarly, State Rep. David Gomberg, representing the Newport area, advocated for an expedited update to the law to avert adverse impacts on community recreation and the broader tourism economy. A vote on the bill is scheduled for Wednesday by the Senate committee.

Legal Challenges and Community Response

The urgency for legislative action stems from a lawsuit filed against the city of Newport by Nicole Fields, who suffered a leg injury on a slippery bridge on her way to Agate Beach in 2019. Fields’ lawsuit, which challenges the city’s immunity under the current definition of recreational activities, has prompted widespread concern among coastal communities. The Oregon Court of Appeals’ decision to side with Fields, based on the argument that walking was not explicitly protected under the law, has led to the closure of several beach trails and heightened fears over the future of recreational immunity.

This legal predicament has propelled coastal communities and their insurers to reassess the viability of keeping trails open to the public. The case’s implications have been far-reaching, with CIS Oregon, a major insurance provider for coastal cities and counties, advising some clients to contemplate trail closures.

The outcome of this legislative effort and the ongoing legal battle will have profound implications for Oregon’s recreational landscape, potentially reshaping how residents and visitors engage with the state’s cherished natural resources.

Marcella Quintana


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