Monday, June 18, 2007

HAWSCT: Hawaii Recreational Use Statute liability exception broadened.

In Thompson v. Kyo-Ya Company, Ltd., 112 Haw. 472 (2006), the supreme court broadened protection for landowners under Hawaii’s Recreational Use Statute (“HRUS”).

In the instant case, Thompson was injured on a pedestrian path on the Sheraton Maui’s hotel property. The injury occurred while walking with her customers after a dive in the beach fronting the hotel. Thompson challenged the circuit court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Kyo-Ya inasmuch as the circuit court concluded that Thompson was a recreational user and thus liability for her injuries could not attach to Kyo-Ya under the HRUS. Thompson’s argument was that she was not a recreational user but was using the path in conjunction with her business purpose as a dive instructor.

Under HRS § 520-4 (Supp. 1997), a landowner is protected from liability claims by recreational users of its property as follows:

Liability of owner limited. (a) Except as specifically recognized by or provided in section 520-6, an owner of land who either directly or indirectly invites or permits without charge any person to use the property for recreational purposes does not:

(1) Extend any assurance that the premises are safe for any purpose;

(2) Confer upon the person the legal status of an invitee or licensee to whom a duty of care is owed;

(3) Assume responsibility for, or incur liability for, any injury to person or property caused by an act of omission or commission of such persons; and

(4) Assume responsibility for, or incur liability for, any injury to person or persons who enter the premises in response to an injured recreational user.

(b) An owner of land who is required or compelled to provide access or parking for such access through or across the owner's property because of state or county land use, zoning, or planning law, ordinance, rule, ruling, or order, to reach property used for recreation purposes, or as part of a habitat conservation plan, or safe harbor agreement, shall be afforded the same protection as to such access, including parking for such access, as an owner of land who invites or permits any person to use that owner's property for recreational purposes under subsection (a).

Based on the underlying polices of the HRUS and a reading of the statute, the court upheld the circuit court’s ruling and held

that the circuit court correctly concluded that Thompson's status on the Sheraton's property fell as a matter of law within the ambit of HRS ch. 520 as a recreational user, inasmuch as she was engaged in "an activity in pursuit of the use of the property for recreational purposes" and, therefore, that the Sheraton was immunized from her negligence claims under the HRUS.

This ruling is welcome news to landowners who are generally required to provide public access to certain natural resources during the land entitlement process.

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