Injured cyclist in Mill Creek Park calls immunity law ‘archaic’
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Injured cyclist in Mill Creek Park calls immunity law ‘archaic’

Jun 02, 2024

Aug 27, 2023

YOUNGSTOWN — George F. Farris of Boardman says he’s disappointed by the Aug. 15 decision of the Ohio Supreme Court refusing to hear an appeal of a lower court decision that went aganist Farris in his lawsuit against Mill Creek MetroParks.

But he hopes the lawsuit sent a message to park leaders.

“The message is simple: ‘If you are open to the public, you should be safe for the public to use.’ To me, that’s common sense.”

Farris sued the MetroParks in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court after he fell from his bicycle while riding on Chestnut Hill Drive near the Chestnut Hill Pavilion on June 22, 2019. Farris, then 65, was wearing a helmet but still suffered a golf-ball sized contusion to his forehead.

Farris was biking to the Garden Cafe in the park’s Fellows Riverside Gardens to meet with his brother / business partner when his bicycle hit a large pothole, sending him to the ground.

Farris, CEO of Farris Marketing, suffered several injuries, including broken ribs and a hemothorax, which is a collection of blood between the chest wall and the lung. Chestnut Hill Drive runs from near the Scholl Recreation Area on Bears Den Road south to Lanterman’s Mill.

Judge Anthony Donofrio and his magistrate, Nicole Alexander, ruled against a MetroParks motion asking that the case be dismissed without need of a trial. That led to the MetroParks appealing to the 7th District Court of Appeals. A panel of appellate court judges from the Circleville area south of Columbus heard the appeal on assignment from the Ohio Supreme Court and ruled in favor of the MetroParks.


The MetroParks said the case should be dismissed because it is “immune from liability” under the “recreational user immunity statute, the political subdivision immunity statute” and because the pothole was “open and obvious,” according to court documents.

Farris and his attorney, Nick Cerni, argued that neither the recreational user statute nor political subdivision immunity statute applied, and the MetroParks “failed to warn of the dangerous pothole, which was not open and obvious at the time of the accident.”

When the 7th District panel ruled in favor of the MetroParks, Farris and Cerni asked the Ohio Supreme Court to take up the case, but the state’s top court declined, without comment, ending the case.


“Apparently. the courts believe it’s OK to hide behind the archaic ‘recreational immunity’ clause in the law, but I think it’s a cop-out,” Farris said. “Any facility open to the public has a responsibility to maintain a safe environment for the public to use. It shouldn’t matter if the facility is owned by a private company or a public park district.”

Farris told The Vindicator the lawsuit was “never about getting some monetary settlement,” saying he refused one settlement offer from the MetroParks’ lawyers.

Farris called the location of the accident “a disgrace.”

“At the time of my accident, if you were riding a bike or in a car from Canfield Road into the park, you experienced a jarring washboard-like surface for a quarter-mile before coming upon land mine-sized holes in the pavement that were hidden by shadows of the large trees.”

Farris said he was “a little disappointed, but not surprised” that the Ohio Supreme Court did not take up the issue for review.

“While the lawsuit was stopped, we were able to bring awareness to the archaic and too loosely defined recreational immunity law. Too often, that law is used to protect organizations that ignore public safety and maintenance issues knowing they cannot be prosecuted or sued,” Farris stated.

He added, “If there is one up side besides the awareness we created, I noticed that many of the roads in Mill Creek Park, including the one where my accident occurred, have been repaired and repaved. Hopefully that will save others from injury.”

When Aaron Young, Mill Creek MetroParks executive director, was asked about the decision of the Ohio Supreme Court, he said: “We are pleased with the decision of the Ohio Supreme Court to not review the 7th District Court of Appeals ruling in his case.

“The recreational immunity statute has been in place for decades to protect entities such as Mill Creek MetroParks in instances of frivolous lawsuits such as this one.”

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