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Tennessee Recreational Activity Exception Spares Landowner from Liability in Motorcycle Crash

Law Office of David S. Hagy, PLC

While visitors who suffer injury while present on the property of another person often have a reasonable chance of success in a legal action against the landowner for negligence or other misconduct, Tennessee law does construct some hard-and-fast protections for landlowners. One of those shields exists when the visitor becomes injured engaging in recreational activities on the landowner’s property. This aspect of the law ultimately undercut the personal injury case of a motorcyclist paralyzed while riding on another man’s farm.

The case centered around an incident occurring on David Dossett’s farm in LaFollette, where he maintained trails for guests to drive off-road vehicles. Dossett had erected some “jumps” on the trails to allow riders to attempt leaps or other manuevers. Dossett neither trained nor supervised the riders that used his farm. In March 2008, Jordan Wilson visited the farm to ride motorcycles. While attempting a leap, Wilson crashed, with the resulting injuries leaving him paralyzed.

Wilson sued Dossett. The trial court threw the case out, though, determining that the Tennesses Code, specifically Section 70-7-102, shielded the landowner from any liability for the motorcyclist’s injuries. That statute pertains to visitors on the property who partake in recreational activities. The trial court decided that, because the motorcyclist engaged in a recreational activity, and that none of the statute’s exceptions (which are codified in Section 70-7-104) salvaged the injured man’s case.

Wilson appealed, but the Tennessee Court of Appeals reached the same outcome. The injured motorcyclist tried unsuccessfully to argue that Section 70-7-102 did not apply because Dossett had modified his land to create the jumps along the trails. The court rejected the argument, stating that the law made no distinction between natural features or man-made ones. The only fact required to trigger the liability shield of Section 70-7-102 was that the visitor engage in a recognized recreational activity. Tennessee law included motorcycling as such an activity, so Wilson’s activity clearly triggered the statute.

With his activity qualifying as a recreational one, the motorcyclist could only fall back on Section 70-7-104, which laid out several bases for which an injured person could still pursue a landowner. These reasons included gross negligence or “willful or wanton conduct that results in a failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity.” The court decided that no such exception applied. The court noted that the motorcyclist admitted that he did not view the jump at issue as necessarily dangerous, and that he fell while using a 250-cc bike, with which he had no experience (as he routinely rode 125-cc motorcycles.)

With the motorcyclist’s activity clearly constituting a recreational one, and the landowner having done nothing to exhibit gross negligence or willful or wanton inappropriate conduct, the injured man had no legal basis to pursue his claim against the landowner.
If you’ve been injured while on someone else’s property, a capable Tennessee injury attorney can provide you invaluable assistance. To consult the Law Office of David S. Hagy, PSC, reach us online or call (615) 975-7882.

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