A recent decision of the Oregon Supreme Court eviscerated Oregon’s recreational immunity statute that protects landowners that permit the public to use their lands.  The decision, Johnson v Gibson, 358 Or 624 (March 3, 2016), held that agents and employees of landowners are not covered by the statute.  As a result, liability and insurance rates skyrocketed, and many public and private lands and parks started to be closed, with more slated for closure in the near future.

Numerous bills were introduced to fix and restore the recreational immunity statute by adding agents and employees, fix additional issues related to tort cap limits, or both. AOC took a strong position in support of those bills as a matter of urgency and priority.

There have been a variety of opponents to those bills. Others have conditioned neutrality on alteration of the legal standard in ways that would likewise eviscerate or compromise recreational immunity.  A small work group of stakeholders was convened by the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and met on March 7, 2017.  AOC Legal Counsel was a part of that work group, representing local governments.  The end result of the work group was an agreement to move forward with Section 1 of Senate Bill 327, fixing only the Johnson issue.

On April 6, 2017, a public hearing and work session was held on Senate Bill 327.  AOC Legal Counsel testified on behalf of the public landowners, and attorney Heath Curtiss of Oregon Forest & Industries Council (OFIC) testified on behalf of the private landowners.  Both represented a broad coalition of seeking restoration of recreational immunity.  The bill moved unanimously out of committee with a “do pass” recommendation, unanimously passed the full Senate and is now in the House.

Contributed by: Rob Bovett | AOC legal counsel