The Michigan State House of Representatives began considering legislation on March 1, 2022, to limit the liability of the state’s campground owners and operators for frivolous campground lawsuits.
Michigan State Rep. Ken Borton (R-Gaylord) introduced the bipartisan measure, along with six other Republicans and two Democrats. Borton said that the bill is intended to “ensure Michigan campgrounds can continue to serve as natural, safe vacation destinations.”
House Bill 5862 shields campground owners, operators against lawsuits
Michigan House Bill 5862 aims to shield campground owners and operators against lawsuits for things that normally exist while camping.
“Northern Michigan campgrounds are great vacation spots for local residents and tourists to stay in our scenic outdoors,” Borton said in a press release about the bill. “We all want to keep these venues open and safe for campers to enjoy. My plan will protect our camps from ridiculous lawsuits, ensuring safety without requiring unnecessary interference with our natural environment.”
The critical component of the measure addresses physical injury or property damage resulting from “inherent risks” of camping.
The bill cites examples of inherent risks, such as geographical features of the natural world, darkness, weather phenomena, other visitors’ actions, wild animals, poisonous plants, fireworks not authorized by the campground, and the use of camp recreational equipment. The measure provides that a campground would be required to post signs at its registration area stating that the campground is not liable for defined inherent risks of camping, with listed examples.
Proponents of the legislation, including advocates like the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, says that the law would maintain “reasonable expectations for campground safety precautions.” For example, there would be no immunity for intentional harm, negligence, or reckless disregard for safety. Immunity would also not attach if the campground operator failed to post the required warning signs specified in the bill.
Similar legislation takes aim at other campground lawsuits in other states, too
Similar legislation has been passed and signed into law in Ohio, Missouri, and Wisconsin. Campground liability limit legislation has also made it to the governors’ desks in Indiana and South Dakota. Those measures are awaiting the signatures of Gov. Holcomb of Indiana and Gov. Noem of South Dakota. Both governors are expected to sign the bills.
The New Hampshire state legislature considered a campground liability measure but rejected it.
The National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) is firmly behind this type of legislation and has assisted state legislative sponsors in drafting bills. Jeff Sims, Senior Director, State Relations and Program Advocacy, told RVtravel.com, “People must remember that these laws have nothing to do with negligence. This industry-specific legislation seeks to protect the small business [i.e., campground operator] from lawsuits arising from factors that are beyond the operator’s control.”
While there are already constraints against frivolous lawsuits at common law and in the form of sanctions against lawyers and plaintiffs filing such actions, campground operators still see actions filed for the “inherent risks” of engaging in camping activities. Campgrounds have seen campground lawsuits for bee stings, campfire burns, illness from outdoor exposure, and wild animal encounters. These suits usually get dismissed by the courts for lack of merit, but not before the campground operator must answer and defend the claim—which can cost tens of thousands of dollars that in many cases is never reimbursed by the plaintiff of the wrongful action. Having some limitations imposed upon the type of lawsuits that can be filed provides at least some protection for the campground operator, which ARVC points out may result in lower costs to the operator and, ultimately, lower campground fees.
RVtravel.com will keep readers apprised of developments on this and other RV industry legislation.