New Montana Law Limits Damages Due to Recreational Injuries
Organized sports and outdoor recreational activities are very popular in Montana. Some activities can be relatively low risk in terms of the potential for injury, but others carry a very high risk of people being hurt. Providers of sports and recreational opportunities, like anyone else, are liable for personal injuries caused by their negligence. Most providers ask patrons to sign a waiver that is designed to protect the provider from being sued for an injury. Until recently, such waivers were not very useful in shielding the providers from liability.
In May 2015, a law was approved by the Governor that allows liability waivers to be recognized in personal injury lawsuits. Before this law, you might say the waivers weren't worth the paper upon which they were written; but now, they will carry weight for the sports and recreation industry. This includes governmental entities such as schools, where sports teams are traditionally sponsored.
The new law will not completely relieve providers and sponsors from liability but will allow them to argue that any given injury was the result of the natural risk associated with a particular activity. As an example, a horseback rider thrown from a horse because the horse was spooked by another animal might be considered a natural risk. On the other hand, if the stable owner knew a horse was skittish and knowingly placed an inexperienced rider on the horse, that injury might be attributable to negligence.
The negligence standard, however, was also altered somewhat by the new law. In addition to recognizing inherent risks, it allows for liability waivers in cases of "ordinary negligence". Following the horseback riding example, shoeing is a routine and necessary aspect of keeping horses. If a horse loses a shoe or it becomes misaligned, the horse may react in a way that could throw a rider. If the shoe problem was the result of a poorly affixed shoe, such a failure might be argued as ordinary negligence.
Despite the changes, this new law does not allow recreation outlets to completely absolve themselves of liability for injuries. If you have been injured through the negligence of a sports or recreational activity provider, call us. We have extensive experience in Montana personal injury litigation and will help you evaluate your options. For more information, please call our office at 406-549-5186 or visit our website. .