By Jim Saunders News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — With the proposal pointing to “inherent risk,” a Florida House panel Monday approved a bill that would help shield campground owners from lawsuits about people getting injured or killed while camping.
“Passing this bill is not going to result in campground owners suddenly wanting to throw you in holes, feed you to wild animals, let you fall into hornet’s nests and so on,” bill sponsor Dean Black, R-Jacksonville said. “It will restore sanity to camping. It will protect camping.”
The Republican-controlled House Civil Justice Subcommittee voted 11-5 along party lines to approve the bill (HB 1323). Sen. Alexis Calatayud, R-Miami, has filed a similar bill (SB 1054), which has not been heard in Senate committees as the 60-day legislative session enters its third week.
Rep. Daryl Campbell, D-Fort Lauderdale, expressed concern about taking the “responsibility off the camp owners.”
“At some point, we have to make sure or put in some stipulations that ensures that these campground operators are actually going around, checking their facility, making sure that they are aware of what’s becoming more of a safety hazard for their guests that are coming here to enjoy some quality time with their family and get away from … the real world,” Campbell said.
The panel approved the bill three days after the House passed a wide-ranging plan (HB 837) designed to help prevent costly lawsuits against businesses and insurance companies. But Black’s bill is narrowly focused on campgrounds.
The proposal lists a series of factors described as an “inherent risk of camping” and would provide legal immunity to campground operators for injuries, deaths or property damage related to those factors. The factors include such things as natural bodies of water, campfires, trees and uneven terrain.
The bill would require campground operators to provide notice about the “inherent risk” of camping. Also, it would not shield operators in circumstances such as committing an “act or omission that constitutes willful and wanton disregard for the safety of another person” that results in injury or death.
Black linked the bill to an increase in camping during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that resulted in an increase in litigation and threats of litigation against campground operators. He also said the bill was modeled after an already-existing law about agritourism.
“Many of our campgrounds operate on very thin margins,” Black said. “They don’t make a lot of money.”
But Todd Michaels, representing the Florida Justice Association plaintiffs’ attorneys group, raised concerns that the bill takes “the law of premises liability and flips it on its head.”
“I just fear how that precedent will start applying when the amusement-park industry comes forward and says, ‘Well, we’ve got inherently dangerous conditions. We should no longer have to act reasonably, either,’” Michaels said.