OR Case Update: Is a City Employee Immune from Liability under Oregon’s Public Use of Land’s Act?

From the desk of Joshua P. Hayward: Are government employees or government agents that are responsible for the repair or maintenance of city-owned recreational land immune from liability for their negligence? Read on to see how the Oregon Supreme Court recently answered this question.

Claims Pointer: The Oregon Supreme Court held that individual employees or agents responsible for repairing, maintaining, and operating improvements on City-owned recreational land available to the public for recreational purposes are not “owners” of the land and, therefore, are not entitled to immunity from their negligence. This case is important in distinguishing immunities that are personal to a defined individual or entity and those that may extend to agents of that individual or entity.

Johnson v. Gibson, 358 Or 624 (March 3, 2016).

Emily Johnson (“plaintiff”) filed a lawsuit after stepping into a hole while jogging in a public park and injuring herself. In her complaint, plaintiff named the City of Portland, Scott Gibson and Robert Stillson (“defendants”). Gibson, a park technician responsibility for park maintenance, created the hole to fix a malfunctioning sprinkler head. Stillson was the maintenance supervisor for all westside parks in the City.

Plaintiff filed her complaint in federal district court, alleging the defendants were liable for negligently causing her injuries. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the three defendants, holding that the defendants were immune from liability under Oregon’s Public Use of Lands Act (“the Act”). Plaintiff appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which certified two questions to the Oregon Supreme Court. The first and primary question was whether individual employees responsible for the repair, maintenance and operating improvements on City-owned recreational land available to the public for recreational use are “owners” of the land and therefore immune from liability for their...

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