Pacific Northwest
Credit: Joe Raineri, KGW Short Sand Beach in Tillamook County

OR - Tillamook County communities consider closing coast trails after lawsuit against city of Newport

In 2019, a woman filed a lawsuit against the city of Newport after she fell on a trail. Some coastal towns are now closing trails to avoid similar lawsuits.

NEWPORT, Oregon — For years, the city of Newport has been fighting a lawsuit against a woman who said she hurt herself when she was walking to Agate Beach.

The legal fight is prompting some Oregon coast communities to consider shutting down their paths, trails and stairways to protect themselves from similar lawsuits.

In 2019, a woman sued Newport for $345,000, arguing it was negligent by creating hazardous conditions when she slipped on a wooden bridge to the beach, according to court documents.

“There was an individual that fell and then ended up pursing litigation to resolve some medical issues,” said Spencer Nebel, the city manager for Newport.

Nebel said they thought the city was protected by a law called “recreational immunity.”

“Recreational immunity is a law that says if people can open their property — or cities or private owners open up their property — for public use, they are immune from being sued,” said Nebel.

The case then went to the Oregon Court of Appeals, who wanted to determine if Fields was in fact using the trails for recreation.

“The key intent in making as much property opened and accessible to the general public. By losing recreational immunity that causes cities and property owners to consider closing off certain things if they feel that may expose taxpayers to higher risks,” added Nebel.

While the case is still in litigation, the trails along Agate Beach remain open — but other coastal towns have taken notice. In Tillamook County, Rockaway Beach and Manzanita are considering temporarily closing some trails.

The trail to Short Sand Beach is closed, though beach access is still possible. Signs are posted warning people to use the trails at their own risk.  

“People have to got to watch out for themselves," said Ryan Hoffman-Wentling, a Portlander who was visiting the beach and spoke to KGW. "I don’t think shutting down access to the beauty we have in Oregon is beneficial for anybody."

For now, both sides are hoping something can be determined very soon, as towns on the Oregon coast pay close attention to the results.

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