In case you were wondering about liability while on a trail…

by Margaret Alexander

You trip, you fall, you bruise–any hiker knows this scenario. It’s an outcome inherent in the risk we take hiking or biking on trails, whether on public lands or private.

What if the scenario is: You trip, you fall, you break, you sue? This is the nightmare that every land manager anticipates and dreads. Public lands are governed by policies and laws which protect the government from suits.

What happens to private land owners who graciously allow us to hike on their private lands? Are they liable to suits when we trip, fall, break? The answer in New Mexico is no. Land owners who allow hikers on their property are protected just as much as those who don’t. That is, the duty of care is the same for hikers as it is for trespassers.

Because private land owners are well-protected from liability law suits, organizations like the Santa Fe Conservation Trust are able to negotiate public trails on private property. A good example are the Galisteo Basin Preserve trails. Trails like Derek’s Delight, Nathan’s Trace and Richard’s Ramble are on private land but we use them under the conditions laid out in a New Mexico Statute which reads:

Effective: June 17, 2011
N. M. S. A. 1978, § 17-4-7
§ 17-4-7. Liability of landowner permitting persons to hunt, fish or use lands for recreation; duty of care; exceptions
A. Any owner, lessee or person in control of lands who, without charge or other consideration, other than a consideration paid to the landowner by the state, the federal government or any other governmental agency, grants permission to any person or group to use the owner’s, lessee’s or land controller’s lands for the purpose of hunting, fishing, trapping, camping, hiking, sightseeing, the operation of aircraft or any other recreational use does not thereby:
(1) extend any assurance that the premises are safe for such purpose;
(2) assume any duty of care to keep such lands safe for entry or use;
(3) assume responsibility or liability for any injury or damage to or caused by such person or group; or
(4) assume any greater responsibility, duty of care or liability to such person or group than if permission had not been granted and the person or group were trespassers.
B. This section shall not limit the liability of any landowner, lessee or person in control of lands that may otherwise exist by law for injuries to any person granted permission to hunt, fish, trap, camp, hike, sightsee, operate aircraft or use the land for recreation in exchange for a consideration, other than a consideration paid to the landowner by the state, the federal government or any other governmental agency.
L. 1967, Ch. 6, § 1; L. 2011, Ch. 63, § 1, eff. June 17, 2011.