In between the debating the death penalty and marijuana laws, Rep. David Baram of Bloomfield will be looking to broker a deal with the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association regarding legislation that modifies Connecticut’s Recreational Land Use Act.
The chairs of the Judiciary Committee are reluctant to raise the bill which protects cash-strapped municipalities from liability should a hiker or biker injure themselves on municipal property, Baram said Monday.
The legislation is one of a few proposed since a jury awarded $2.9 million to a bicyclist who was severely injured while riding the wrong way on a trail at the Metropolitan District Commission’s West Hartford Reservoir.
Baram said he’s offered several compromises, but has been unable to win the support of the trial lawyers.
The compromise Baram offered includes exemptions for swimming pools, tennis courts, playgrounds and ball fields. He said mostly the bill covers passive recreational areas such as trails and fields.
Hartford lawyer Michael Walsh, vice president of the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association, told the Judiciary Committee last week that it would be unfair for injured individuals to take responsibility for injuries that weren’t their fault.
“These proposals close the doors of the courts to injured people, merely because of where that injury occurred,” Walsh said.
He said municipalities already enjoy a strong defense under the doctrine of governmental immunity.
Eric Hammerling, executive director of the Connecticut Forrest and Park Association, said last week that people often don’t think about their liability when they’re out hiking or recreating. He said when a hiker or biker is out on a trail and move between municipal, state, and private property they’re not thinking about their liability should they get injured.
He said this legislation would clear up any confusion that may result and encourage municipalities to open up their property to the public.
Simsbury First Selectwoman Mary Glassman told the committee that since the lawsuit towns have closed many recreational facilities and decided not to pursue open space purchases as a result.
She said it’s only fair recreational liability already enjoyed by the state be extended to municipalities.
The legislation is also supported by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities even though they prefer similar legislation which passed through the Planning and Development Committee earlier this year.
The Judiciary Committee has until Friday to vote on the legislation.