Legal Memorandum: Recreational Immunity Statute in WA

Issue: What grounds may be used to argue against application of Washington’s recreational immunity statute in a case brought against the U.S. Forest Service?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure, Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Landowner's common-law duty; Public invitees; Encourage recreational use of land
Jurisdiction: Washington
Cited Cases: 30 P.3d 460; 977 P.2d 15; 258 P.2d 461; 969 P.2d 75; 203 P.3d 389; 846 P.2d 522; 824 P.2d 541; 287 P.2d 721; 14 P.3d 871; 384 P.2d 127; 88 P.3d 996
Cited Statutes: RCW 4.24.210; 28 U.S.C. § 2674
Date: 10/01/2011


At common law, Washington recreational users were characterized as “public invitees,” and landowners were liable to them for injuries caused by a dangerous condition of the land about which the owner knew or should have known.*FN1  Washington’s recreational immunity statute, RCW 4.24.210, was enacted to modify the landowner’s common-law duty owed to public invitees so as to encourage the landowners—whether private or governmental—to open up their lands to the public for recreational purposes.*FN2 

In cases brought against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), state law and defenses apply, “to the same extent as [to] a private individual under like circumstances.”*FN3  Thus, the recreational immunity statutes of many states have frequently been applied to immunize the federal government and its agencies from personal injury liability in premises liability cases brought under the FTCA.*FN4  More specifically, Washington’s recreational liability statute has been applied to immunize the federal government from liability in a FTCA case.*FN5  And it has been recognized that the United States Forest Service is entitled to the protection of a state recreational immunity statute in a proper case.*FN6 

Washington’s recreational immunity statute, RCW 4.24.210, provides:

(1) [A]ny public or private landowners or others in lawful possession and control of any lands . . . who […]

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