Jan 17, 2020
This is a picture of the entrance to Buckskin Mountain State Park. This is a popular Arizona state park on Lake Havasu on the Colorado River.

Who is Responsible for Injuries at State Parks?

My friends are planning a camping trip for the summer, and they want to stop at several state parks. I’ve been asked to come along, but I’ve recently read several stories about how hikers and campers are getting injured at these parks. Should I be worried? Who is responsible for these injuries?

State parks are a wonderful way to enjoy the natural beauty of the U.S. Some state parks are free to enter, and there are usually ample opportunities for camping. But there are also risks of injuries.

Should you be worried? Yes, and no. You could get hit by a car or killed walking out of your front door. Risks of injury shouldn’t stop you from doing something you want to do. Otherwise, you may never leave the house.

With that said, you should still be careful and use common sense if you go camping with your friends. People suffer from automobile accidents, drownings, slips and falls, electrocutions and other types of injuries when visiting state parks. Injuries caused by wildlife contact and falling tree branches are also common.

As far as responsibility for injuries goes, state and federal agencies have sovereign immunity from lawsuits. However, there are some exceptions. As per the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), private individuals can file negligence torts against federal agencies as well as their employees if their actions result in personal injuries.

“Individuals can pursue claims for automobile accidents caused by poor road maintenance,” says Bogdan Martinovich. “They can pursue claims for premises liability when damaged or poorly maintained facilities lead to a slip and fall accident. Victims can even pursue claims for medical negligence when first responders fail to properly treat an injured visitor within a state park.”

Government entities have a responsibility to keep visitors safe from harm. If they breach this duty, they can be found negligent. However, you must be able to prove that the negligence existed. In some cases, negligence is blatant and obvious, but typically, negligence is difficult to prove.

For example, let’s say that your friend decided to climb the rocks near a waterfall in a state park. He slipped on the wet rock, fell and suffered head trauma. Throughout the park, there are signs posted that warn visitors not to climb the rocks and of the hazardous condition. In this case, the government would probably not be held liable because your friend ignored the sign and warning.

On the other hand, if there is a known natural hazard, but there were no signs posted to warn your friend of the danger, the park may be found negligent in this case.

Ultimately, liability comes down to the circumstances of the injury – as is the case with most personal injury claims. You would need to consult with a lawyer to determine whether you had a case and who, if anyone, would be responsible for your injuries.

The goal should be to avoid injuries in the first place. Use common sense when camping. Wear the appropriate clothing and shoes for hiking. Follow the rules regarding food and bears, and don’t attempt to hike trails or paths that are too difficult or hazardous.

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