TRANSCRIPT -- WILL NEBRASKA SKATE PARKS REOPEN??? Music/Skate park sounds: 15 seconds of Skateboarding sounds with electric guitar music up and under, fades with first actuality. Actuality: Alex Berlow: That was the only spot we had to skate in Fremont where you could just skate all day long and not get in trouble. You can’t go anywhere in this town without getting in trouble for skateboarding…. Anywhere. If you look, all over town there are signs, everywhere—―no skateboarding, no loitering.‖ They call the cops, they take you boards away, They’ll take your pictures. Actuality: Senator Mike Flood #1: We, for years, in Norfolk were trying to find a place for kids that wanted to go to skateboard, because they were using the downtown areas, unsafe areas in parking lots of makeshift ramps, whatever it may be. And the skate park was really an answer to a problem – and that was making sure the kids had someplace where they could skateboard while, at the same time, in a safe environment and away from other pedestrians that might cause trouble or cause damage. And then the court comes down and reverses itself after 25 years, and sometimes it’s just extremely frustrating when you’re trying to find opportunities for kids. My narration 1: THAT WAS 19-YEAR-OLD ALEX BERLOW OF FREMONT, NEBRASKA, FOLLOWED BY STATE SENATOR MIKE FLOOD OF NORFOLK, NEBRASKA. BOTH ARE FRUSTRATED THAT THEIR TOWNS HAVE CLOSED THEIR PUBLIC SKATE PARKS, ALONG WITH A HALF DOZEN OTHER NEBRASKA SKATE PARKS THAT WERE CLOSED THIS FALL, AT LEAST TEMPORARILY, WHEN THEIR INSURANCE COVERAGE WAS THREATENED. THIS HAPPENED WHEN THE STATE SUPREME COURT CHANGED A LONG-STANDING INTERPRETATION OF NEBRASKA’S RECREATIONAL LIABILITY ACT. SINCE THE EARLY 1980S, IT’S BEEN UNDERSTOOD THAT, BARRING NEGLIGENCE, THE ACT MADE PUBLIC RECREATIONAL SITES IMMUNE FROM LIABILITY IF SOMEONE WAS INJURED WHILE USING THEM. WHEN THE STATE SUPREME COURT DECIDED THAT A WOMAN WHO SERIOUSLY INJURED HER ANKLE WHEN SHE STEPPED IN A HOLE ON PUBLIC LANDS DURING A FESTIVAL IN WESTERN NEBRASKA COULD, IN FACT, SUE FOR DAMAGES, THAT IMMUNITY WAS NO LONGER CERTAIN. THE YOUTH OF FLOOD’S HOME TOWN OF NORFOLK NEBRASKA RAISED MONEY FOR TWO YEARS TO HELP FUND THEIR SKATEPARK, AND THEIR EFFORTS EARNED THEM AN ADDITIONAL $25,000 FROM THE TONY HAWK FOUNDATION – THE LARGEST GRANT AMOUNT THE FOUNDATION HAS GIVEN. NOW SKATEBOARDERS AND COMMUNITY LEADERS, AS WELL AS SKATEPARK SUPPORTERS AROUND THE COUNTRY, ARE LOOKING TO THE 2007 NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE FOR A SOLUTION. ALTHOUGH SO FAR SKATE PARKS HAVE BEEN THE MOST DRASTICALLY AFFECTED, OTHER CHANGES CAN BE SEEN AROUND THE STATE – LIKE NEW RESTRICTIONS AT POPULAR SLEDDING SITES, AND SENATOR FLOOD SAYS UNLESS THE LEGISLATURE ACTS, A LOT MORE RECREATIONAL ACTIVITIES COULD BE IN JEOPARDY. Actuality, Sen. Flood 2: I think the court’s decision in Nebraska recently puts at risk everything from waterslides to tornado slides to skate parks to high school football and basketball games. I’ve got school, cities, counties, natural resource districts all calling, wanting to figure out what they have to do so that they don’t get used if something happens. My Narration 2: Marin Chaloupka is the Nebraska Plaintiff’s attorney who successfully petitioned the court to hear the case. She says the Nebraska Recreational Liability Act, passed in the last 1960s or early 70s, and based on a similar federal act, was originally designed to encourage private landowners to open their lands for recreational activities, thereby saving tax dollars, by offering them the carrot of immunity from lawsuits if someone was injured in the process. In the early 1980s, however, a Nebraska court interpreted its protection to include public lands, and this has been the case ever since. Chaloupka explains why she felt the court should revisit whether the act, in fact, offered protection for public lands. Actuality, Attorney Chaloupka #1: The reality, and this is an observation the supreme court had made in an earlier decision about a year ago, is that government ostensibly does not need the motivation of immunity from liability in order to open land to the public. Government has, for many, many years, made parks available to the public, just as a function of governmental activities. So, the court held that it really is inconsistent to say that a government would need to be immune in order to do this. And the other concern that is in there is that government pays for and receives insurance coverage for exactly these types of injuries. MY NARRATION #3: Public skate parks are relatively new in Nebraska – the oldest being around 10 years old – and although some skateboarders feel they are being singled out for closings when other sports are potentially as or more likely to bring liability lawsuits, Johnny Miller, Director of Risk Management and Insurance for the League of Nebraska Municipalities – the consortium from whom many of these small towns get their insurance – says that’s not the case. Miller says when small towns they insure started considering building skate parks and inquired about whether their insurance carriers would cover them, the League’s insurers were nervous about the perceived liability risk of skate parks. But they agreed to cover them IF they were covered by the Recreational Liability Act. Once the Act’s coverage of public facilities in general came into question, Miller says his organization’s insurance of skate parks in particular was immediately jeopardized. HEIDI LEMON IS ONE OF THOSE TROUBLED BY THE NEBRASKA SKATE PARK CLOSINGS. SHE’S THE PRESIDENT OF CALIFORNIA-BASED SKATE PARK USA, A NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION THAT HAS HELPED SKATEBOARDERS AND COMMUNITIES WITH SKATE PARKS FOR OVER A DECADE. LEMON SAYS THE REGULATION OF PUBLIC SKATE PARKS IS DIFFERENT THAN OTHER RECREATIONAL ACTIVITIES, AND SHE SUSPECTS A CERTAIN BIAS EXISTS, AND SHE HOPES THE NEBRASKA CLOSINGS DON’T AFFECT SKATE PARKS IN OTHER STATES. Heidi Lemon Actuality #1: The laws and the governing of it have been handed over to insurance companies and the government and the police – which is ridiculous – it doesn’t happen in any other sport. What they do is make criminals out of kids that are skateboarding. And that’s basically what the cities use them for, too – it’s a great source of revenue for the cities – they charge $400 fines, and they make a lot of money. Kids can’t pay the fines, and then they get warrants out for their arrest. It’s just all – you know, it’s just a pattern that I see over and over and over again. Kids lobby for these parks, they get these skate parks, the parks are successful, and then the government comes in, and they just are not fair with this group of people. When you break down something like this with the Supreme Court Ruling, the trial attorneys in the next state are going to be, ―Oh Boy, now we have a precedent, and now we’re going to do this in our state,‖ Until you turn around, and they can take this out of every state, and it’s a free for all.‖ My Narration #4. Doug Wyseman is a risk management consultant from Ontario who has given workshops on skate board risk management from Hawaii to Miami. His manual, Risk Management and Skate Parks, has been purchased by over 2000 groups and individuals. Wyseman believes all the concern about skate park liability, with or without immunity, is unnecessary, and he feels there are many sports that provide far greater liability risks to communities than skate parks. ACTUALITY, Doug Wyseman #1: Skate parks don’t have a claim history. They’ve been around for a long time, and there are no claims – very very few claims in comparison to other sports. There’s way more claims coming out of the development of trails, multi-use trails across the country, and multi-use trails have very few claims compared to most areas of a municipality. A lot of municipalities own ice rinks. I can talk for the next 6 weeks about people who become quadriplegics or are killed playing ice hockey – or figure skating, for that matter. Well, people in the North aren’t running around saying, ―Oh my God, close the arenas, there are lawsuits‖, because that’s our way of life – any more than I’d say – you know what, there’s way more injuries and way more lawsuits coming from people playing basketball on outdoor courts in the Carolinas, so close the basketball courts. My Narration #4: Plaintiff Attorney Chaloupka says it’s no surprise there haven’t been many lawsuits on behalf of injured skateboarders. She attributes this to the established case law of Assumption of the Risk. In fact, because of this law, she feels much of the concern for liability for activities such as skateboarding is needless. Actuality, Attorney Chaloupka, #2: If there’s a finding that the plaintiff, the injured citizen, has taken a risk that is not reasonable, and if that risk is 50% or more responsible for the ultimate injury, that person is not going to be able to recover, and the courts would probably not allow that case to go to trial. I can’t imagine a case where the court would allow such a situation to go to trial because the law is quite clear. If you are 50% or more responsible for your injuries, you cannot recover for your damages. My Narration #5: Although the League’s Miller believes that Assumption of Risk provides some protection against lawsuits, he believes it’s the longstanding immunity from liability that has played the biggest role in keeping lawsuits out of the courts. He adds that even if a plaintiff didn’t win, just going through the trial process would be extremely costly to communities and their insurers. Actuality, Johnnie Miller from the League of Nebraska Municipalities #1: The immunity clause is really the one that hits them bold-face. For the last 25 years, the courts have been saying, ―You’re right, we’re throwing this out of court, we’re not even going to look at the level of negligence on the individual’s part – whether or not they assumed liability when they undertook that type of recreation. We’re just throwing it out because of the immunity. My Narration #6: Whether or not skate parks are a liability risk for communities – with or without immunity for public lands – for now several of them remained closed in Nebraska. Wyseman thinks communities closing their skate parks need to think about where those skateboarders are going. Actuality, Wyseman, #2: The cities that are closing their skate parks. Well, does that mean the kids aren’t going to skateboard anymore?? I gotta think they are. I mean, I haven’t seen a town in America that doesn’t have some kids that are skateboarding. And the towns that don’t have a skate park – the kids skate someplace with ramps and rails – public buildings 99.9% of the time. And I’m always telling municipalities that, Gee, if you’re afraid of your liability from the skate park, how come you’re not too worried when you know that the kids are out there on the ramps at the city hall or the community center, or whatever, which is your property. And there you may not have immunity for recreational lands, but it’s your property. My Narration, #7: Sixteen-year-old skateboarder Nathan Pearce skates at Robert’s Skate Park in Omaha, which has remained open during all this uncertainty about the Recreational Liability Act. The City of Omaha has its own private insurance, and so far Roberts Park hasn’t been threatened. But Pearce says even if Roberts did close, he wouldn’t stop skating – it would just be a lot more risky. Actuality, Nathan Pearce #1: We just keep getting in trouble if we don’t have someplace to go that’s legal – we’ll just get in more trouble because, you know, they ticket you, you hurt people. If you don’t have someplace to go, you’re just going to be skating at school or on city parks or something. I got a ticket for skating at school. My Narration, #8, Segment Outro: Much of Nebraska had inordinately warm, dry weather through the end of 2006, making those closed skate parks even harder for Nebraska skateboarders to accept. It’s in the hands of legislators now, and many are hopeful that skate parks will be open again before the end of Nebraska’s 100th Legislative session. From Omaha, I’m Deborah Van Fleet. Music/Sounds: 10-15 seconds of Skate park sounds with electric guitar music up and under.
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