We've all been there before, getting kicked out of places for jumping, sometimes even before we start. APK's General Counsel, Christopher Seaton did some research for us and wrote this article so that all traceurs and freerunners alike will know their rights when training. Read more to get the details!
Disclaimer: The following is provided for informational purposes only. The material discussed in this article should not be taken as providing actual legal advice, nor should the material presented be considered to constitute the formation of an attorney-client relationship.
We’ve all been there at some point. Traceurs and Freerunners the world over get kicked off college campuses, booted from parks, and told to “move on” in urban areas whenever they’re training. Sometimes this occurs on a daily basis, and it can get frustrating. The problem is compounded when communities plan jams or other mass training sessions and seminars, as the most common response from desirable sites is “We don’t want to be responsible for what happens if one of you gets hurt doing that jumping off rooftops stuff you crazy kids do.” Fortunately, there may be a way for Parkour practitioners and owners of land to get along—and they come in the form of something called “recreational use statutes.”
Before I begin discussing “recreational use statutes,” I need to clarify that there are two kinds of laws that limit private and public landowner liability. If the land on which you train is public property (such as a national park or a city owned playground) then the law in question is your state’s Governmental Immunity Act or State Tort Claims Act. These are laws designed to limit your government’s liability—or what they can be sued for—in the event something happens to you on the property during your training session. Private land (such as a privately-owned park, a college campus, a church parking garage, etc.) is protected to a degree through recreational use statutes. Regardless of what you call the law, though, the idea is to shift the burden of liability—who pays in the event someone gets injured—away from the landowners and on to the person using the property for their recreational activities.
Recreational Use Statutes are designed to promote public recreational use of privately owned land. This is accomplished by giving landowners a broad scope of immunity from being sued over personal injuries or property damage suffered by those who choose to use the landowner’s property for personal recreational activities on that owner’s land. Each generally provides that a landowner does not owe a duty of care to keep the property safe for entry or use, or a duty to give warning of dangerous conditions, uses, structures, or activities on their property if someone is using the property for recreational purposes. This protection is lost in most cases, however, if the landowner charges for the use of the land or if the landowner is guilty of malicious conduct.
How is this different from other laws in your state? Well, to put things simply, in most cases people are owed different “duties of care” when they come onto private land. This means that there’s different obligations landowners have to their guests when someone comes on the property. As an example, people the law deems “invitees” are owed the greatest duty of care and landowners must take special care to ensure no harm comes to an invitee on their property. On the other hand, if the person coming on the property is an unknown, adult trespasser the landowner owes no duty of care at all to the party on his or her land. That last sentence is especially important because most recreational use statutes treat recreational users like trespassers, so no duty of care is owed to the recreational user.
I know what you’re thinking. “Whoa, I’m being treated like a trespasser? Doesn’t that mean I’m guilty of a crime?” No, folks, it just means the person who owns the land you’re on doesn’t have to pay up if you get injured during your latest double kong to diveroll attempt on a couple of picnic tables they keep on their property.
Who is protected under a Recreational Use Statute? The answer, like so much in legal circles, is “it depends.” Most statutes of this kind will state that a person has to qualify as an “owner” according to its language. This is a broad definition, though, and can apply from anyone to the legal owner of the land on down to simply “a person in control of the premises.” This technically could be anyone from a park ranger, a janitor, or a person authorized by the landowner to keep an eye on all the people doing backflips on slacklines in the area they own. Some states even qualify a public entity (such as the Parks and Recreation department in your area) as a “landowner,” so make sure you check the law in your state closely.
The land described in recreational use statutes varies depending on the state. Some see only areas clearly suitable for recreational use (like undeveloped rural land) as protected while others say that land, water, buildings, structures, machinery, and equipment are covered! In other cases, states look to the activity that had taken place on the land, regardless of whether the land would be considered “suitable for recreational use.” California and Connecticut, at the time of this writing, falls into the broadest of those definitions, so if you’re out training with Tempest then you might be in good shape.
Be sure to check what the statute says is a “recreational purpose” or “recreational use.” Most states will usually include a list of activities that constitute “recreational use,” and these activities are naturally covered. If you see the phrase “including, but not limited to” in the law then you’re golden—that means the list in the statute is not the be-all, end-all of what constitutes “recreational use” and your training is probably covered under the statute. Certain states limit covered activities in ways that can seem restrictive—like only allowing activities that can be pursued outdoors to qualify under the law. This is another good reason why you shouldn’t be practicing your precisions in a mall, folks—it probably won’t get covered in your state’s recreational use statute if you’re hopping from fountain to bench and then get hurt in the process.
So when can a landowner find themselves the subject of a suit? That varies. First is the issue of whether the landowner charged you a fee to use their land. That will usually strip them of the recreational use statute’s protection. This can vary from state to state, and case law usually governs what amount and when this particular aspect applies. In some states, paying for entry into a public park was not a payment for use. Others have found that if a landowner charged a per-vehicle fee for entry then THAT constituted “payment for use” and therefore stripped the landowner of the Recreational Use Statute’s protection. The upshot to all this is that you get to make the argument that you don’t need to pay for use of the land since it protects the people who own the land from getting sued! You get to use the land for free, and the landowners don’t have to worry about a phone call from the friendly neighborhood lawyer. We traceurs love it when we get stuff for free.
The other issue for potential lawsuits is if the landowner is guilty of malicious conduct, or if they willfully or deliberately cause an injury to you on the property. This is a hard thing to prove since if you sue the landowner, you have to show that (1) the landowner had ACTUAL knowledge of dangers on their property and that (2) the landowner willfully failed to guard or warn against the dangerous condition.
Let’s keep one thing straight in closing, though: the landowners still have the right to kick you off their property if they don’t like what you’re doing, if you mess up their property, or if they simply are having a bad day and don’t want anybody around. In these cases, you’re now entering the realm of trespassing, and that’s another matter for another article. If you find yourself in the crosshairs of an irate landowner, best practices state that you should just move on and find another training location.
The following are citations (references) to recreational use statutes in all 50 states. These may not be accurate at the time of this writing, so I suggest you either do a Google search for the citation in the or you go to your local law library (usually located on the campus of a big college) and look the statute up yourself. Printing off the statute and carrying it with you to provide to landowners and those charged with watching the land may give you an out in the event you find someone yelling “HEY YOU CRAZY KIDS STOP BACKFLIPPING ON MY PROPERTY!!” It’s not a definitive protection, though, so follow Seaton’s Golden Rules: 1) Be respectful, 2) Be polite, 3) Leave the land in better condition than you found it, and 4) Move on when told to do so.
ALABAMA: Alabama Code 35-15-1
ALASKA: Title 9, Section 09.65.200, Title 34, Sec. 34.17.055
ARIZONA: Section 33-1551 of Chapter 12
ARKANSAS: Stat. Ann. 18-11-301
CALIFORNIA: Civil Code Division 2, Part 2, Title 3, Chapter 2
COLORADO: 33-41-101 to 33-41-105
CONNECTICUT: Title 52, Chapter 925, Sec. 52-557(f)-(i)
DELAWARE: Title 7, Part VI, Chapter 59, Sections 5901-5907
FLORIDA: Florida Statutes Title XXVIII, Chapter 375, Sec. 375.251
GEORGIA: Code of Georgia, 51-3-20 to 51-3-26
HAWAII: Hawaii Code Division 3, Title 24, Chapter 520, Sections 520-1 to 520-7
IDAHO: Idaho Code, General Laws, Title 36, Chapter 16, Section 36-1604
ILLINOIS: Illinois Compiled Statutes, Chapter 745, Sections 745 ILCS 65/1 to 65/7
INDIANA: Burns Indiana Statutes, Title 14, Article 22, Chapter 10, Section 14-22-10-2
IOWA: Code of Iowa, Title XI, Subtitle 2, Chapter 461C, Sections 461C.1 to 461C.7
KANSAS: Kansas Statutes, Chapter 58, Article 32, Sections 58-3201 to 58-3207
KENTUCKY: Kentucky Revised Statutes, Title XXXVI, Chapter 411, Section 411.190
LOUISIANA: Louisiana Statutes Title 9, Code Book III, Code Title V, Chapter 2, Section 2791
MAINE: Maine Revised Statutes, Title 14, Part 1, Chapter 7, Section 159 A
MARYLAND: Code of Maryland, Title 5, Subtitle 11, Sections 5-1101 to 5-1108
MASSACHUSETTS: Massachusetts General Laws, Part 1, Title 2, Chapter 21, Section 17C
MICHIGAN: Michigan Compiled Laws, Chapter 324, Article III, Chapter 4, Subchapter 1, Part 733, Section 324.73301
MINNESOTA: Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 604A, Sections 604A.20 to 604A.27
MISSISSIPPI: Mississippi Code, Title 89, Chapter 2, Article 1, Sections 89-2-1 to 89-2-27
MISSOURI: Revised Statutes, Title XXXVI, Chapter 537, Sections 537.345 to 537.348
MONTANA: Montana Code, Title 70, Chapter 16, Sections 70-16-301 to 70-16-302
NEBRASKA: Revised Statutes, Chapter 37, Article 7, Sections 37-729 to 37-736
NEVADA: Revised Statutes, Title 3, Chapter 41, Section 41.510
NEW HAMPSHIRE: Revised Statutes, Title XVIII, Chapter 212, Section 212:34
NEW JERSEY: New Jersey Statutes Title 13, Chapter 1B, Article IIC, Sections 13:1B-15.134 to 13:1B-15.142
NEW MEXICO: New Mexico Statutes Chapter 17, Article 4, Section 17-4-7.
NEW YORK: General Obligations Law, Article 9, Title 1, Section 9-103
NORTH CAROLINA: North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 38A, Sections 38A-1 to 38A-4
NORTH DAKOTA: North Dakota Century Code, Title 53, Chapter 53-08, Sections 53-08-01 to 53-08-06
OHIO: Page’s Ohio Revised Code, Title 15, Chapter 1533, Sections 1533.18 and 1533.181
OKLAHOMA: Oklahoma Statutes, Title 76, Sections 10 to 15.1
OREGON: Oregon Revised Statutes, Title 10, Chapter 105, Sections 105.672 to 105.700
PENNSYLVANIA: Pennsylvania Statutes, Title 68, Chapter 11, Sections 477-1 to 477-7
RHODE ISLAND: General Laws of Rhode Island, Title 32, Chapter 6, Sections 32-6-1 to 32-6-6.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Code of Laws of South Carolina, Title 27, Chapter 3, Sections 27-3-10 to 27-3-70.
SOUTH DAKOTA: South Dakota Codified Laws, Title 20, Chapter 20-9, Sections 20-9-12 to 20-9-18
TENNESSEE: Tennessee Code Annotated Sections 11-10-101 to 11-10-105
TEXAS: Texas Statutes and Codes, Civil Practice and Remedies, Title 4, Chapter 75, Sections 75.001 to 75.004
UTAH: Utah Code, Title 57, Chapter 14, Sections 57-14-1 to 57-14-7
VERMONT: Vermont Statutes Annotated, Title 12, Part 9, Chapter 203, Sections 5791 to 5795
VIRGINIA: Code of Virginia, Title 29.1, Chapter 5, Article 1, Section 29.1-509
WASHINGTON: Revised Code, Title 4, Chapter 4.24, Sections 4.24.200, 4.24.210
WEST VIRGINIA: West Virginia Code, Chapter 19, Article 25, Sections 19-25-1 to 19-25-5
WISCONSIN: Wisconsin Statutes, Provisions Common to Actions and Proceedings in All Courts, Chapter 895, Sections 895.52, 895.525
WYOMING: Wyoming Statutes, Title 34, Chapter 19, Sections 34-19-101 to 34-19-106
Christopher Seaton is General Counsel for American Parkour and founder of Quest Conflict Resolution, a firm specializing in finding creative ways for parties to resolve their disputes outside of the courtroom. A practicing attorney and mediator in Tennessee, Chris can usually be distinguished in court as the one attorney wearing Ariakes with a suit.