July 28, 2015 – Donna Carini was injured at her employer’s company picnic, and sued her employer for negligence. Recently, a state appeals court ruled that Carini’s employer was immune from suit based on Wisconsin’s recreational immunity statute.
The employer, ProHealth Care, reserved a space in the parking lot at the Milwaukee County Zoo to host the picnic. The picnic was held in a large party tent that seated 1,200 people, with smaller tents for food and beverages. Carini was headed to the food tent when she tripped over an uncovered power cord and fractured her shoulder.
In her lawsuit, Carini alleged the ProHealth Care was negligent for failing to secure the power cord, used by the band, or warning guests of the hazard. ProHealth Care moved for summary judgment, arguing that recreational immunity barred Carini’s lawsuit.
Under Wis. Stat. section 895.52(2), nonprofit organizations do not have a duty to keep property safe for recreational activities and have no duty to provide warnings of unsafe conditions to people who enter the organization’s property for recreational activities.
Although ProHealth Care is a nonprofit organization, Carini argued that she was not engaged in a “recreational activity” when she was injured. That is, Carini said she had just arrived at the zoo and was merely walking from her car to the picnic when she fell.
The circuit court sided with Carini, denying ProHealth Care’s motion for summary judgment. It also denied ProHealth Care’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.
But in Carini v. ProHealth Care Inc., 2014AP1131 (July 28, 2015), a three-judge panel for the District I Court of Appeals reversed, concluding and affirming that “the act of walking to or from an immune activity constitutes recreational activity.”
“[W]hile Carini may not have started eating or socializing when she fell, because she was walking in the picnic area on her way to partake in the festivities, she was engaged in a recreational activity,” wrote Judge Patricia Curley for the three-judge panel.
The panel noted that when Carini was within the reserved picnic area when she fell, near the band: “[S]he was not merely in transit; she was in the midst of the action.”
The panel also rejected Carini’s argument that immunity did not apply because ProHealth Care’s negligence was not related to the condition of the picnic area. She said a power cord, brought in temporarily, was not a condition of the land at issue.
“Considering the relevant cases, which make clear that a temporary, artificial condition still make constitute a ‘condition’ of the land, we are satisfied that ProHealth Care’s alleged negligence did in fact stem from a condition of the picnic area,” Curley wrote.