Both houses of the South Dakota legislature have approved a bill creating immunity for campground owners whose guests encounter the risks inherent in camping, such as insects, birds and tree stumps. Owners say the pandemic and the state’s open invitation to outsiders has resulted in an influx of first-time campers who don’t understand nature’s unpredictability.
Mary Arlington is the executive director of the South Dakota Campground Owners Association and a former campground owner. She testified before the House and Senate Judiciary Committees in support of the bill that reduces the risk of lawsuits for campground owners.
Arlington said the bill does not address gross negligence. It’s about the variability and unpredictability of the woods and grasslands that has led to endless chases for conditions beyond the campground’s control.
“We met with industry insurance companies and they confirmed that they had seen lawsuits for natural situations such as bee stings and mosquito bites,” she said.
Arlington said many campers are from South Dakota, but there has recently been a flood of nonresidents.
“Given the pandemic’s call for the outdoors for social time and vacations, these inexperienced campers have been out like crazy.”
Arlington said these campers have expectations of comfort that the realities of nature simply cannot provide.
She told the Senate bench about an event that happened while she owned a campground. “I remember that day clearly, just baffling me. A guest was outraged because a songbird in the tree woke her the only morning she was allowed to sleep. She actually asked for her camping refund or she would sue me, quote.
House Bill 1176 lists a long list of inherent hazards, including trees and tree stumps, rough terrain, weather, wildlife, roots, rocks, mud, sand, and lack of street lamps.
The bill requires campground owners to post a notice of specific known hazards, as well as a notice of immunity from liability for injury or death resulting from hazards inherent in camping.
The bill is now heading to the governor’s office for a signature.