Slate’s Law Blog

Do Premises Liability Laws Apply to Spelunking Accidents

If you think the mountains, plains, gorges, and sand dunes of New Mexico are beautiful, wait until you see what is below the surface. The Carlsbad Caverns National Park is only a small part of the Carlsbad cave system. There are many other caves in New Mexico besides the ones that tourists visit, and many of them are beneath the surface of privately owned land. The government of New Mexico encourages cave exploration as a recreational activity and a way of finding out more about the natural environment of New Mexico, including but not limited to its plant and animal species. What happens if you get injured while exploring a cave on someone else’s land? Do premises liability laws apply, like they would if you got injured in an accident at a supermarket or trampoline park? The short answer is that it depends. If you got injured while hiking in a cave in New Mexico, contact a Santa Fe slip-and-fall and premises liability lawyer.

SB 77 and Outdoor Recreation in New Mexico

Senate Bill 77, which went into effect in 2019, outlines the situations where landowners are not liable for accidental injuries sustained by visitors to their land. According to premises liability laws, the owner or operator of a piece of land or a structure on that land is legally responsible for accidental injuries suffered by most visitors to the property. The covered visitors include invitees, such as customers of a business or guests at a social gathering, and licensees, meaning people who went to the property in the context of their work but who are not employees of the owner of the premises; employees of the owner of the premises are protected by workers’ compensation laws, not premises liability laws. Premises liability does not cover accidental injuries sustained by trespassers.

Pursuant to SB 77, landowners are not liable for accidental injuries to visitors who use the landowners’ land for recreational purposes free of charge. The recreational activities exempt from premises liability include camping, hiking, hunting, and fishing, among others. Unlike earlier versions of recreational land use statutes in New Mexico, SB 77 specifically includes cave exploration as a type of recreational land use that is not covered by premises liability.

The only way in which premises liability laws can apply to injuries sustained while hiking in a cave is if you were a paying customer of a party responsible for the cave or for the hiking expedition. For example, if a tour company took you on a tour of a cave, and you got injured in a preventable accident, then you might be able to file a claim against the tour company and recover damages for your medical bills and other accident-related financial losses.

Contact Slate Stern About Cave Accident Lawsuits

Slate Stern is a personal injury lawyer who represents plaintiffs injured in outdoor recreation accidents. Contact Slate Stern in Santa Fe, New Mexico, or call (505)814-1517 to discuss your case. 

Photo by Cason Asher on Unsplash