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Florida Paintball Bill
By Bill Mills, 15 March 2004

Tallahassee, FL - Since early in 2004 members of the Florida State Legislature have been working to modify existing Florida State Law to provide liability protection to government agencies which operate paintball fields.

Florida House of Representatives bill 13770 and senate bill 1790, if passed, would change Section 316.0085 of the Florida Statutes.  That portion of state law offers cities and counties that operate facilities for skateboarding, inline skating, freestyle bicycling immunity from liability.  The proposed changes would add paintball to the list of activities given this protection.  

The existing law does not protect park operators from gross negligence.  For example, if a skate ramp collapsed because it was poorly constructed, the injured party could have a successful case against the city which operated the skate park.  However, if a person was injured in that park from a typical skating injury such as falling off of a skateboard, the law puts the responsibility on the skater for undertaking the risk rather than the city for operating the park.

Representative Mitch Needelman (R Melbourne, FL) sponsored house bill 13770 in response to requests from the City of Palm Bay, which lies within his district.  Palm Bays Parks and Recreation department began operating Hurricane Paintball Park in the fall of 2003, and hoped a change to the law would provide the city with additional protection.  

In an interview with WARPIG.com, Needelman explained why paintball liability would be a concern even when national sports injury statistics show a day of paintball to be 19 times less likely to cause an injury than a game of football, 12 times less likely than a game of soccer and 11 times less likely than a game of softball all activities typically done in city parks without liability issues.  According to Needelman it boils down to expected risk.  In liability cases courts will consider that because the public is familiar long standing sports like softball and football, the risk of injury is well understood, while with newer, younger sports like paintball and skating, the participant may not recognize the risks involved.

It is hoped that with the law in place, cities and counties in Florida would be encouraged to provide public paintball fields to their residents.

In order to become passed into law, identical versions of the bill must pass through both houses of the Florida state legislature.  While Needelman has been guiding the house version, Senator Bill Posey (R Rockledge, FL) has been overseeing senate bill 1790.  

Senate bill 1790 started with a prefiling in February 2004, and progressed smoothly, passing without opposing votes through the Comprehensive Planning, Governmental Oversight and Productivity, and Judiciary committees.  The bill had a smooth history until April 14th, when two attempts were made to amend it with an addition of specific wording requiring municipal paintball fields to implement and enforce safety rules.  One amended version was withdrawn and a second failed to pass.

Such a simple change may make sense as a good safety requirement for paintball fields, however it puts the bills at risk of passing.  Before they can go to the states Governor to be signed into law they must pass in identical form through both the house and senate.  A modification to one means that one or both must then be amended and voted upon.  Considering the looming deadline of two and a half weeks to close of the legislative session that might not be possible.  If the bills do not pass through the legislature before the close of session they die, either to be forgotten, or to start over from scratch during a future session.

Senate committee analysis notes cited little potential impact for the bill on the private sector, aside from limiting liability of injury claimants.  They failed to address the potential of government owned paintball fields having a financial advantage in reduced liability and possibly reduced insurance premiums over existing commercial paintball fields with which they may compete.  When asked about this aspect, Needelman commented I dont see that in my area because we dont have any commercial fields in Palm Bay.  I guess it would fall in the same issue with stadiums, like private stadiums that compete with public stadiums.  That does pose an interesting question.  He went on to point out that providing areas for public recreation has traditionally been an undertaking of municipal governments, and that this bill should make it easier for communities to provide safe, monitored paintball facilities for their residents.

Florida residents who want to see more municipal paintball fields in their state may wish to contact their representative and senator, with a simple phone call or e-mail to ask for their support to pass the paintball liability bills without amendment.  Contact information for senators can be found here.   Contact information for representatives can be found here.  
 


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