Watching Sports is not "Recreation"
The Texas Supreme Court recently ruled on a premises-defect case where a spectator at a softball game sustained injuries in a trip and fall accident while leaving a softball game. The issue was whether spectating at a competitive sporting event is considered “recreation” under the recreational use statue. Lawson v. City of Diboll, 2015 WL 5458763 (Tex. 2015).
At the time of the incident, the City of Diboll owned Old Orchard Park, a park that is open to the public at no cost. Diboll Youth Baseball League played their games at Old Orchard Park and did not charge spectators to watch their sporting events. On opening day of the youth league, Carolyn Burns went to watch her granddaughter’s softball game at the Park. As Burns was exiting the complex, she tripped on a hollow pipe protruding from the center of the paved sidewalk and was injured. The purpose of the pipe was to hold a vertical metal pole to prevent vehicles from entering the complex. On the day of the accident, the pole was not in the protruding pipe. The pipe was painted yellow and was about 4 inches in height. Ms. Burns claims she did not see the pipe because she was walking in a crowd of people.
Ms. Burns filed a premises liability lawsuit against the City, asserting that the City violated its duty of ordinary care by failing to provide a safe walkway passage. In response, the City filed a plea to the jurisdiction asserting that it retained its immunity from the law suit under the recreational use statute. The City claimed they retained immunity because (1.) Ms. Burns was involved in “recreation” when she was injured and (2.) she did not produce evidence to satisfy the recreational use statute’s heightened liability standard nor did she plead it. The trial court denied the plea. The court of appeals reversed the trial court, holding that spectating a sporting event constitutes recreation. The court held that Ms. Burns watching a sporting event and returning to her vehicle after the event qualified under the catch all portion of the recreation definition, which reads in relevant part, “any other activity associated with enjoying the outdoors.” Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code section 75.001(3)(L).
However, the Court of Appeals did not have the benefit of reviewing the Texas Supreme Court’s recent opinion, The University of Texas at Arlington v. Williams, 459 S.W.3d 48, 55 (Tex. 2015) when it rendered its decision. In Williams, the Texas Supreme Court, in a plurality opinion, held that neither watching a competitive sporting event nor related acts of egress are included in the recreational use statute’s definition of “recreation.” The Texas Supreme Court in Williams did not include the act of spectating sporting events as recreation “because the out-doors and nature are not integral to the enjoyment of that activity and because the activity is unlike the others the statute expressly uses to define ‘recreation’.”
The Court used the same analysis in Lawson to affirm that spectating at a competitive sporting event is not “recreation” under the recreational use statute. According to the Court, the facts in Williams are indistinguishable from the facts in Lawson. As a result, the Court reversed the court of appeals decision without hearing oral argument and remanded the case to trial court.