Archive for July, 2010

Recreational Property Act Shields City from Liability for Skydiving Injury at Festival

The Court of Appeals of Georgia recently held that a city was immune from a lawsuit filed by a spectator who was injured by a landing skydiver during a city-sponsored festival. Lowry v. Cochran, 2010 WL 2163892 (Ga.App. Jun. 1, 2010).

Laura Lowry attended an annual festival at a park owned by the City of Euharlee. The festival was open to the public without an admission charge and the organizers invited a skydiving team to provide a demonstration. The organizers set up a landing area marked off by hay bales. To provide a “margin of error” in case of an emergency, the skydivers also designated an area of approximately 30 feet around the hay bales as a “buffer zone,” but they did not place any signs or ropes designating where the buffer zone was or indicating that spectators were prohibited from entering the zone.

Lowry and her children arrived shortly before the demonstration began and set up chairs just outside the landing area and within the unmarked buffer zone, where many other spectators were sitting. There was conflicting evidence as to what warnings were given to spectators regarding where to sit or stand during the demonstration. Ben Cochran, the first skydiver to jump, was approximately 100 feet from the ground when his parachute collapsed and began a rapid descent toward the ground. As he approached the landing area, Cochran collided with Lowry and knocked her down. Lowry sued Cochran, the City, and Norman Johnson, a skydiver who inspected and approved the landing site for the demonstration. All of the parties filed motions for summary judgment, which the trial court denied, holding in part that skydiving was an inherently dangerous activity that imposed strict liability on the defendants.

In reversing the trial court, the Court of Appeals of Georgia refused to extend the “inherently dangerous activity” doctrine to participants in aviation or recreational activities. Furthermore, the Court held that the City was shielded by the Recreational Property Act, O.C.G.A. § 51-3-20 et seq., which encourages both public and private landowners to make their property available to the public for recreational purposes by limiting the liability of the landowner. Under the Act, when a landowner invites or permits without charge any person to use its property for recreational purposes, it may not be held liable for personal injuries resulting from any act or omission of the landowner unless such injuries resulted from a “willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity.”

Here, admission to the festival was open to the public without charge, and the only monies collected by the City consisted of a nominal parking fee. While Lowry claims not to have heard any of the warnings, she could not produce any evidence showing that warnings were not actually given. Her assertion that the warnings were insufficient amounts at most to negligent conduct. Because there was no evidence that the City willfully or maliciously failed to guard or warn Lowry against any danger, the City was immune from liability. The Court refused to extend immunity to Johnson and Cochran, as the skydivers were not agents of the city performing a governmental function.

For more information, please contact Timothy Buckley III, Esq. at (404) 633-9230.

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