Queensland is home to some of the most beautiful national parks in Australia, with thousands of annual visitors and holidaymakers enjoying places like Daintree National Park and the Whitsunday Islands. While these national parks are unquestionably beautiful, natural features also present risks and hazards that can lead to serious accidents and injuries. Who's liable if you suffer an injury in a Queensland national park? Find out here.
The principles of personal injury liability in Queensland
To sue a person or organisation for your injuries, you must prove in court that:
- The person or organisation had a duty of care to do everything reasonable to prevent an injury.
- The person or organisation breached this duty of care in some way.
- You suffered an injury as a result of this failure.
In a national park, this duty of care once covered almost anything, ranging from man-made resources like roads and bridges to natural features like waterfalls and sand dunes. However, a change to the law in 2013 substantially limited the liability of Queensland's national parks for injuries suffered by members if the public in the park.
Why the law changed
Personal liability cases often lead to extensive financial damages. In the case of a serious injury, it's not unusual for the plaintiff to receive thousands or millions of dollars in compensation. When somebody sues a national park, it's the taxpayer that ends up paying any damages, and legislators in Queensland decided that the cost of these lawsuits was not sustainable.
In 2013, when the law changed, the National Parks Minister referred to nine outstanding cases that he estimated would cost the taxpayer nearly $12 million. Faced with increasing pressure to change, Queensland enacted changes to the Nature Conservation Act to protect the State from civil liability.
How liability law in national parks now works
Following the change to the Nature Conservation Act, the State is no longer liable for accidents that occur in relation to the natural functions of the national parks. In simple terms, this means that when you enter the national park, you accept that the natural environment is possibly dangerous, and you accept the risk. For example, if you fall off a cliff or run down a sand dune and hurt yourself, the State will no longer be liable for your injuries. The change in legislation came about largely because it is impossible for the State to protect visitors from every risk in the park.
However, you can still sue for damages in certain situations. For example, the park authorities must still make sure that roads, fixtures (like stairways or lookout towers) and programmed burning or culling activities are safe. As such, if you hurt yourself because a stairway in a national park was faulty, you could still sue the State.
Changes to Queensland law in 2013 mean that the State now has greatly reduced liability for personal injuries in national parks. Talk to an experienced lawyer for more information or advice.