Immunity Upheld Under Recreational Property Act
Yohan Trotter, a coach with the Tucker Football League, Inc. (the “League”), was injured in a fight following a youth football game at the League's field. Trotter was a volunteer coach, and, on September 9, 2017, Trotter's under-12 team was playing a game at its home field. The League owned the property on which the field sat and did not charge an admission fee for the game. At the end of the game, an adult spectator approached Trotter on the field and, after the two exchanged words, the spectator physically assaulted Trotter. A child was also hit during the altercation.
The League was a member of the larger Youth Football Association (“YFA”) and was subject to that association's policies and procedures. YFA required a police presence at games, a fence or barrier at least 15 yards from the field, and alcohol was prohibited. The League violated each of these policies and the League board member with oversight responsibility at the field had even consumed alcohol on the day of Trotter’s altercation.
Trotter sued the League for damages, arguing that the League was negligent in failing to take required safety measures at the field. The trial court granted summary judgment to the League on the ground that the League was immune from suit under the Recreational Property Act, O.C.G.A. § 51-3-20 et seq. (the “Act”), and Trotter appealed. On appeal, Trotter argued that the Act's immunity did not apply because the League willfully failed to warn him of or guard against a dangerous condition at the field. Trotter v. Tucker Football League, Inc., 875 S.E.2d 474, 476 (Ga. Ct. App. 2022), reconsideration denied (July 12, 2022).
The Act shields from liability a property owner who either directly or indirectly invites or permits without charge any person to use the property for recreational purposes. However, nothing in the Act limits in any way any liability which otherwise exists due to the willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity. O.C.G.A. § 51-3-25(1). The Court found that Trotter did not produce any evidence that any unruly behavior by spectators was not open and obvious to an objective person at the field, much less evidence that the League had actual knowledge that the unruly behavior was not apparent to those using the property. Trotter also offered no argument or evidence showing that the lack of police presence at the field was not open and obvious to an objective person – only that he was subjectively unaware.
Finally, alcohol consumption by the League's board member who was responsible for overseeing football game was not a condition involving an unreasonable risk of death or serious bodily harm. As such, the Court held that Trotter could not show that the RPA’s exception to immunity for willful failure to warn or guard applied to these facts. While the Court acknowledged that there may be an inference that these conditions were not open and obvious or that the League had actual knowledge of the allegedly dangerous conditions, the Court held to a strict application of the RPA’s exception to immunity.