There are two considerations to this question’s answer. The first is whether the mere fact that an injury occurred in a park is enough to make the park responsible to the victim. The second is whether the town is the responsible party for the park.
As to part one, parks are places of recreation, and people who participate in recreational activities often sustain injuries through no one’s fault but simply due to the inherent risks of the activity. The park is not responsible for pulled hamstrings, sprained ankles, or bloody noses that occur in the normal course of a flag football game or ultimate Frisbee match. Nor is the park responsible when the user of a barbecue pit sprays lighter fluid onto a lit fire and winds up burning himself or when parents leave small children unsupervised, and they hurt themselves on park equipment meant for older, bigger kids.
The park is only responsible when poor construction or maintenance of its facilities produces hidden hazards that cause preventable harm: if the chain on a swing breaks under the weight of a child, if playground equipment is shoddy or not up to safety standards, if bricks in steps are loose and give way, or if drains are left uncovered so people can step into them. A park could also be at fault if, following a fierce storm, no one checked the structural integrity of trees, and a loose branch fell, injuring a visitor. Finally, under certain circumstances, where authorities have been negligent about curtailing illegal activity in a park, victims of crimes might also be able to sue.
But whom should a victim sue? The mere fact that a park is located in a town does not make the town the proper defendant for a lawsuit. New Jersey has national parks and recreation areas, state parks, county parks, and municipal parks. In each case, a different government entity is responsible for construction and maintenance. The National Park Service is the responsible entity for the portion of the Appalachian Trail that cuts through the Garden State as well as the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and other attractions. The NJ Environmental Protection Agency Division of Parks and Forestry has jurisdiction over State Parks, forests, recreation areas, and marinas. Each county has a Department of Parks and municipalities generally have Parks Divisions in their Departments of Public Works.
It is vitally important to the success of your lawsuit to attach the proper defendant in your action. In a normal lawsuit against a private citizen or corporation, you have two years to file suit, so if you made a mistake identifying the proper defendant, you’d have time to make a correction. But when you sue a public entity, you must file a notice of action prior to the lawsuit, usually within 60 to 90 days. If you miss that deadline, you might lose your right to any compensation.
Premises liability accidents often make for complex legal cases, especially when accidents occur on government-owned property. If you’ve been injured in a park accident in Bergen County or anywhere in New Jersey, Seigel Law is ready to help. Contact us online or call 201.444.4000 today for a free consultation and case evaluation.