New York Hiker Accidents: Can the Park or Land Owner Be Held Liable under New York State Personal Injury Law?

hikers.jpgLetchworth is one of several upstate New York State parks. It is the deepest gorge anywhere east of the Rockies and is sometimes called “the Grand Canyon of the East”. I personally have spent many splendid, sun-drenched days hiking its trails, and driving or bicycling around its “rim” to take in the spectacular view. It is “gorge-ous”!

But unfortunately, it can also be deadly. Case on point: Local news media sources report that a 19-year old hiker died after suffering a 300-foot fall into the gorge at around 9:30 p.m. this Saturday. No other details are available. What makes this tragedy (only 19 years old!!) so, well, tragic, is that it could almost certainly have been avoided.

Although hiking, especially in State Parks, is a healthy, enjoyable good-weather activity, two human failings (or a combination of them) cause almost all injuries or death on the trail: (1) The Park owner’s failure to properly maintain the trails and area and to place appropriate warnings signs and (2) hikers’ failure to follow common sense safety rules. In today’s blog post, I will talk about number (1), and in tomorrow’s, number (2).

So let’s talk about number 1 (the Park owner’s failings). My Central New York personal injury law firm has handled several cases involving State Park hikers’ tragic deaths or serious injuries. I won’t kid you; these are tough cases. Lots of special defenses are available to the State and to other landowners that a good New York personal injury lawyer has to adroitly attempt to maneuver around. In general, though, the park owner or landowner (including the State of New York) can be held liable for injuries or death if it failed to act as a “reasonable person” in maintaining its park or land in a “reasonably safe condition” in view of all the circumstances, including the likelihood of injury or death to users of the property.

The owner can also be held liable for failing to warn against dangers that hikers or other users of the land would not likely discover or realize, including dangerous terrains, falling rocks, sudden flooding, loose footing, or sudden drop offs or cliffs. Where the danger is not obvious, the landowner’s (or park owner’s) burden is even greater. For example, even if the park owner (or other landowner) puts up a sign informing hikers not to pass beyond a certain point, and hikers ignore the sign, the owner can nevertheless be held liable where a particular danger was known by the owner but not stated in the sign (such as the danger of landslides, falling rocks, sudden flooding, or of sudden drop offs). This is especially true where the owner knows that hikers regularly disregard the sign and go beyond it. So, for example, a sign that says “danger – do not go beyond this point”, where the danger beyond that point is known by the owner to be falling rocks, or a drop off, or sudden flooding, will not generally suffice, especially where the owner knew that hikers or others often went beyond that point despite the sign.

In sum, if your loved one dies, or if you are injured, while hiking due to some danger on or off the trail, you won’t know whether you have a New York personal injury case unless you have the case reviewed, and investigated, by a competent New York personal injury lawyer.

Stay tuned. Tomorrow I will discuss how hikers can avoid injury or death on the trail.

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