Ohio Camping

A bill moving through the Ohio Senate aims to help park owners defend against lawsuits arising from things out of their control.

A new bill working its way through the Ohio Senate may offer more peace of mind to business owners and employees running campgrounds, which remain among the region’s most popular summer destinations, according to the Port Clinton News-Herald.

House Bill 229 aims to amend the state’s liability laws pertaining to campgrounds, making it so owners and employees can no longer be sued for incidents they had no control over, according to state Rep. D.J. Swearingen, R-Huron, who sponsored the legislation.

“Ohioans shouldn’t be held at fault for events and circumstances that are totally out of their control,” Swearingen said. “That’s common sense.”

He said the new legislation would provide for more “just outcomes” by raising the level of liability risks specific and inherent to camping.

The way the existing law is written does not work, Swearingen said.

“It’s not clear enough and as a result, Ohioans are fielding claims that, quite frankly, they have no control over,” he said, citing examples such as bicycle accidents, campfire accidents and even drunken adults jumping off picnic tables.

“I’m sorry to say, but if you get drunk and jump off a picnic table at a campground, that one’s on you,” Swearingen said.

But for some campgrounds, the cases end up settled to avoid costly litigation or increased insurance costs.

“In my 45 years in the camping business, I have had many incidents which would qualify under this bill,” said Jeff Hoffman, owner of the Sandusky Bayshore Kampgrounds of America (KOA) and president of the Ohio Campground Owners Association.

Among the incidents cited by Hoffman were dog bites, people tripping over fire rings, wind damage, other animal encounters and more.

While he said they do take safety very seriously and do their best to provide safe environments, they cannot eliminate every risk inherent to camping.

“This is our livelihood,” Hoffman said. ”Our parks carry our blood, sweat, tears and to be in constant threat of a frivolous lawsuit from an obvious risk to camping is stressful.”

Mark Skinner, of Sleepy Hollows Campground in Port Clinton, which has been operating since the 1960s, said while his campground has not been targeted by any frivolous lawsuits there, he understands how the bill could provide peace of mind for those that have been.

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