Spring 2024

Maryland’s Recreational Use Statute

As we near the spring and summer months, people will undoubtedly be spending more time outdoors – in parks, pools, and other recreational areas, enjoying the warmer weather. The increased time spent outside means there may be more slips, trips, falls, or other accidents, leading to claims and lawsuits. Whether a landowner of these recreational outdoor areas will be liable to a guest is dependent upon the particular function of the area in question and whether such area falls within Maryland’s Recreational Use Statute.

Maryland’s Recreational Use Statute, initially enacted in 1966 and currently codified at Md. Code Ann., Nat. Res. § 5-1101 et. seq., serves the purpose of encouraging landowners to make their land accessible and available to the public for recreational and/or educational purposes while limiting the landowner’s liability towards any person who enters onto the land for such purposes. Specifically, § 5-1103 of the statute states (with exceptions), that “an owner of land owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for any recreational or educational purpose, or to give any warning of a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity on the premises to any person who enters on the land for these purposes.”

The next subsection § 5-1104 of the statute states, “[e]xcept as specifically recognized by or provided in § 5-1106 of this subtitle, an owner of land who either directly or indirectly invites or permits without charge persons to use the property for any recreational or educational purpose or to cut firewood for personal use does not by this action: (1) Extend any assurance that the premises are safe for any purpose; (2) Confer upon the person the legal status of an invitee or licensee to whom a duty of care is owed; or (3) Assume responsibility for or incur liability as a result of any injury to the person or property caused by an act of omission of the person.” The exceptions to the limitation of liability include any “willful of malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity” or injury suffered where “the owner of land charges the person who enters or goes on the land for recreational or educational use.” Md. Code Ann., Nat. Res. § 5-1106.

Mayor & City Council of Baltimore v. Jamie Wallace, 260 Md.App. 388 (2024).

On June 19, 2018, Jamie Wallace was riding her bike on her way home from work through the Waterfront Promenade in Baltimore City near Key Highway. The Waterfront Promenade is an eight-mile public pedestrian walkway and shared use bicycle path. According to the Baltimore City Charter, the property is owned by the City, and the Department of Transportation is responsible for its maintenance. As Ms. Wallace was riding her bike along the Waterfront Promenade, the wheel of her bike became stuck in a gap between the granite bulkhead and brick pavers. She was ejected from her bike and fell into the Inner Harbor. Ms. Wallace filed suit against the City, alleging that the City breached its duty of care by negligently failing to warn her of a dangerous condition and by allowing the dangerous condition to remain on the premises.

The City argued in its Motion for Summary Judgment and Motion for Judgment at the close of Plaintiff’s case, that Ms. Wallace’s use of the bicycle path fell squarely within the Recreational Use Statute and as such, the City did not owe Ms. Wallace a duty of care. The City’s motions were denied. After the evidence was presented, a jury found the City negligent and awarded Ms. Wallace $100,000.00 in damages. The City filed a post-trial Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict, which was denied. The City appealed.

The Appellate Court of Maryland upheld the trial court’s denial of the City’s Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict and agreed with Ms. Wallace’s arguments that Maryland’s Recreational Use Statute was inapplicable. Ms. Wallace’s argument was two-fold. First, she argued that the Waterfront Promenade functions as a waterfront sidewalk and the nature of the promenade was sufficient to establish that the City did not make the land available for a recreational purpose. Second, Ms. Wallace contended that the nature of her activity on the promenade was not for recreational purposes, but for the purpose of commuting home for work. Thus, the Recreational Use Statute was inapplicable. The Court agreed with Ms. Wallace and held that the property where Ms. Wallace was traveling on her bike serves as “a public connector to other parts of the City,” and does not “serve as a property, park or land that was made available for recreational purposes.” In such case, the City owed her the common law duty of ordinary care.

Written by attorney Marni E. Sperling.