Camp owners gain liability protection in bill

Larry Limpf

A bill that provides qualified immunity for Ohio campground owners has been passed out of committee and will go to a floor vote of the House of Representatives.
State Rep. DJ Swearingen (R-Huron), a co-sponsor of House Bill 355, said it is designed to protect campground owners from frivolous lawsuits. The bill was approved by the Civil Justice Committee on Tuesday.
“Travel and tourism is an important part of our local economy,” Swearingen said. “This is common sense legislation that has drawn bipartisan support from across the state.”
The bill provides camp operators protection from civil liability for harm to campers or visitors that results from a risk inherent to camping – defined in the bill as a danger or condition that is an integral part of camping such as plants, mud, uneven terrain, a body of water that isn’t a swimming pool, campfires, wildlife not under the control of the camp operator or pets not kept by the operator provided the operator has a policy requiring the animal owner to keep the pet on a leash or contained.
The bill requires operators to post signs at entrances to the campground that the operator isn’t liable for harm resulting from inherent risks.
Recreational activities that are within the operator’s control are not considered a risk inherent to camping,
Chip Hanawalt, president of the Ohio Campground Owners Association, testified before the committee, saying the bill “will provide clarity for our members and for our campers.”
“Many of the things commonly associated with camping carry risks for the participant: fishing, campfires, hiking, walking the grounds, etc.,” he said. “An owner cannot eliminate those risks and should not be held liable if an injury occurs.”
He said the bill is modeled after legislation that provides similar protections to agri-tourism businesses.
John Van Doorn, director of government affairs for the Ohio Association for Justice, told the committee the OAJ isn’t opposing the bill but has been working with the sponsors on amendments “that will tighten the scope of immunity.”
He said features of a campground such as zip lines, rock climbing or archery should not be granted immunity.
Also, the OAJ supports provisions of the bill requiring pet owners to assume control of their animals.
“At a minimum, campers and visitors must be notified that they are required to control their animals at all times,” Van Doorn said. “And campground owners must enforce this requirement.”


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