10. Iowa legislature wipes out Iowa Supreme Court opinion on state recreational use statute. The Iowa recreational use statute provides an incentive for landowners to open up their property to entrants for recreational purposes by removing the common-law duties that landowners owe to lawful property entrants. Recreational users are generally treated as adult trespassers – the landowner only owes recreational entrants a duty to refrain from willfully or wantonly injuring them. However, an opinion of the Iowa Court of Appeals was affirmed and expanded by the Iowa Supreme Court in early 2013 with the result that the Court invalidated the statute in its present form. The Court’s opinion created a firestorm amongst Iowa landowners, hunters, outdoor enthusiasts and other interested parties and resulted in legislation unanimously passing both bodies of the Iowa legislature that had the effect of vacating (rendering null and void) the Court’s opinion.

 

Also see Top ten agricultural law developments of 2012

 

The facts of the case are straightforward. The plaintiff was a chaperone for her daughter’s kindergarten class field trip to the defendants’ dairy farm. The kindergarten teacher had been invited to bring her class to the farm on an annual basis for 25 years. During this visit, the group was guided by the defendants to different activities, such as horseback riding, calf feeding, tractor viewing, and playing in the hayloft. The plaintiff was in the hayloft with the children when the hay bale on which she was standing gave way and she fell down a chute to the floor six feet below. As a result, she broke her wrist and ankle. The plaintiff sued the defendants, alleging that they breached their duty to maintain the premises in a safe manner. She later amended her petition to allege that “as tour guides” upon whom the plaintiff “relied,” the defendants “failed to exercise reasonable care in the conduct of the tour when they directed the [p]laintiff and her daughter into the hay loft where the dangerous condition existed.”

The Court reviewed five fact-specific tests that have been used by other states to limit the scope of liability protections in those states’ recreational use statutes. The majority opinion appeared to adopt all of the tests. Each test must be satisfied and each one represents a new requirement that must be satisfied before the liability protections of the Iowa recreational use statute apply. None of these requirements have ever been previously required under the Iowa statute. The five requirements the court created are as follows: (1) the land must be held open to the general public; (2) the activities must occur outdoors; (3) the injury must be sustained while the plaintiff is directly participating in a covered activity; (4) the plaintiff must not be invited to the property; and (5) the landowner must not be functioning in the role of a tour guide. Because these factors were not satisfied, the Court said the statute did not apply and the landowner was liable for the chaperone’s injury. A dissenting opinion was filed in the case.

In the late-night hours May 16, the Iowa legislature unanimously passed a bill to address the liability concerns raised by the case. The bill expresses that the statute should be interpreted liberally and broadly in favor of landholders to accomplish the purposes of the statute. The bill makes clear that the land holder does not have to open the land to the general public. It adds “educational activities” to the scope of recreational use activities. The bill also expressly states that persons accompanying others engaging in the recreational activities are included under the statute (i.e. chaperones). The bill eliminates the causation requirement enunciated by the Iowa Supreme Court in the case that injuries must be directly sustained in the course of a specific recreational activity and includes protection for a person’s entire presence on the land to participate in the activities. The bill eliminates any duty of care created solely by reason of guiding, directing, supervising, or participating in the activities (“tour guide” liability). The bill retains exceptions for statutory liability protection if injuries are sustained from the land holder’s willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition or if the land holder charges a fee for the use of the land.

The legislature’s action represents how the people, through their elected representatives, can eliminate a court’s opinion when that opinion is viewed to be a radical departure from settled law. Sallee v. Stewart, 827 N.W.2d 128 (Iowa 2013) and HF 649, Iowa Legislature, 2013 General Assembly.

* Leonard Dolezal Professor in Agricultural Law, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, and Director of the ISU Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation. Member of the Iowa and Kansas Bar Associations and licensed to practice in Nebraska.

 

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