JANINE P. GESKE, J.
Matthew Verdoljak (Verdoljak) petitioned this court for review of a decision of the court of appeals affirming the order of the Circuit Court for Douglas County dismissing his negligence action against Mosinee Paper Corporation (Mosinee). The order was entered by Judge Joseph A. McDonald upon granting the defendant's motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the claim was barred under the "recreational use" statute, Wis. Stat. § 895.52
The material facts are undisputed. On July 27, 1992, Verdoljak transported his Honda 125 "dirt bike" by truck to a location where he intended to meet friends to go riding "for fun." Upon arriving and not finding his friends, Verdoljak unloaded his motorbike and went riding alone at a nearby sand pit. After a short time, he decided to try to meet up with his friends and headed back along a dirt or sandy trail through a forested area. Verdoljak had used the logging trail before and viewed it as a "short-cut" to the area where he intended to meet his friends. He was injured when he drove into a gate blocking the road which consisted of a one-half-inch
Mosinee owns the section of forest where the accident occurred. Several trails or logging roads wind through the property to provide Mosinee's logging trucks and equipment access to the forest land during harvest season. For the protection of the property, the public, loggers and logging equipment, the gate is closed during active harvesting operations to block access by private vehicles or individuals. However, when logging is not in progress, the property is open to the public for hunting and fishing
RECREATIONAL USE IMMUNITY
We review a grant of summary judgment by applying the same standards used by the circuit court in making its initial determination—those set forth in Wis. Stat. § 802.08(2). Shannon v. Shannon, 150 Wis.2d 434, 441, 442 N.W.2d 25 (1989). Summary judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Linville v. City of Janesville, 184 Wis.2d 705, 714, 516 N.W.2d 427 (1994). Resolution of this case requires us to apply the recreational use statute to the undisputed facts which presents a question of law requiring de novo review. Sievert, 190 Wis. 2d at 628.
Verdoljak argues that Mosinee is not entitled to invoke the protection of the recreational use statute in this case because Mosinee had not "opened" its property for the particular recreational use of motorbiking at the particular time of the accident. He asserts that the legislative history and the decisions of Wisconsin courts have made it clear that a private landowner is only afforded immunity for lands "opened" to public use. He argues further that Mosinee cannot claim the benefit of having "opened" its lands for recreational use because it took "affirmative steps to expressly forbid" the use of motorbikes on the property.
We reject this argument. Rather, we concur with the position taken by the court of appeals which found that the meaning of Wis. Stat. § 895.52 is "straightforward and plain: It limits `the liability of property owners toward others who use the property for recreational activities'; it does not purport to condition that limit to owners who open their land to those who use it for recreational activities." Verdoljak v. Mosinee Paper Corp., 192 Wis.2d 235, 246, 531 N.W.2d 341 (Ct. App. 1995). There are large sections of land in Wisconsin on which a member of the public will be greeted by neither a "Welcome" nor a "No Trespassing" sign. Under Wis. Stat. § 895.52(2) the owner of the property is clearly, unambiguously immune from liability for injury suffered or caused by a person engaging in recreational activity on the property. The focus is on the activity of the person who enters and uses the land, not upon any obligation on the part of the owner to affirmatively demonstrate that the land is open.
As in all instances when our inquiry centers on a statute, our primary objective is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature. State v. Olson, 175 Wis.2d 628, 633, 498 N.W.2d 661 (1993). Here, the legislature has provided us with a clear statement of intent contained in the introductory language to 1983 Wisconsin Act 418 which created Wis. Stat. § 895.52:
Neither the statement of legislative intent nor the language of Wis. Stat. § 895.52 contains the word "open." This stands in contrast with the introductory language of 1963 Wis. Act 89 which created the predecessor immunity statute, Wis. Stat. § 29.68
We have found that the nature and language of amendments are significant and that the omission of a word or phrase is indicative of an intent to alter statutory meaning. Cardinal v. Leader Nat. Ins. Co., 166 Wis.2d 375, 388, 480 N.W.2d 1 (1992). Further, where a statute has been repealed and recreated on the same subject, any changes in language are presumed to be the result of conscious deliberation on the part of the legislature. Kerkvliet v. Kerkvliet, 166 Wis.2d 930, 945-46, 480 N.W.2d 823 (Ct. App. 1992). Here, the newly created statute is essentially a complete rewrite, containing none of the previous references to "open[ing] land" and giving or granting "permission" to enter. Again, the legislature has provided clear guidance in its statement of its intent as to the focus of the current statute as contrasted with its predecessor: "[1983 Wis. Act 418] is intended to overrule any previous Wisconsin supreme court decisions interpreting section 29.68
The unambiguous language of the recreational use statute sets the following precondition for immunity—that the injury be to or caused by "a person engaging in a recreational activity on the owner's property . . ." Wis. Stat. § 895.52(2)(b). There is no language that conditions immunity upon affirmative acts on the part of the owner to grant permission or otherwise "open" land.
We must presume that the legislature intends for a statute to be interpreted in a manner that advances the purposes of the statute. GTE North Inc. v. Public Service Comm., 176 Wis.2d 559, 566, 500 N.W.2d 284 (1993). This court and the court of appeals have recognized that the purpose of the recreational immunity statute is to encourage property owners to allow use of their lands for recreational activities by removing the potential for liability arising out of negligence actions brought against them by persons who use the land for such recreational purposes. See, e.g., Linville, 184 Wis. 2d at 715; Silingo v. Village of Mukwonago, 156 Wis.2d 536, 544, 458 N.W.2d 379 (Ct. App. 1990); Bystery v. Village of Sauk City, 146 Wis.2d 247, 252, 430 N.W.2d 611 (Ct. App. 1988). This purpose would be defeated if Verdoljak's interpretation were adopted because property owners would lose the certainty that a true immunity statute like § 895.52 provides. Owners would be encouraged to close all of their lands to all purposes if they feared that a partial restriction covering particular activities would actually expose them to greater, rather than lesser, liability.
According to Verdoljak, each case is fact-governed and immunity should only apply to injuries sustained in recreational activities that are specifically permitted on a given property. In investigating this line of thought, the following hypothetical was posed during oral argument: Farmer A allows public access to a lake on his property for public swimming, but posts a sign prohibiting skateboarding on a hilly area next to the lake. Verdoljak stated that, under his interpretation, the statute would immunize the property owner from suit by an injured swimmer but not by a skateboarder.
Adherence to the canons of statutory construction as well as common sense require us to reject this argument. We will not adopt an interpretation that would lead to an absurd or unreasonable result. Cardinal, 166 Wis. 2d at 390. The above scenario does present just such an absurd result. This line of questioning in oral argument also raised the issue of whether, if Verdoljak were determined to have been trespassing at the time and point of his accident, Mosinee would be barred from claiming statutory immunity. We take this opportunity to state that the applicability of Wis. Stat. § 895.52 does not hinge on the injured party's status as a non-trespasser, but rather on his or her use of the property for recreational purposes. We reject the notion that the recreational use statute could confer greater protection to a trespasser than to one who was lawfully using the premises and, conversely, that it could expose a property owner to greater liability to one engaging in prohibited activity than to members of the public utilizing the property as intended. Again, we
Although our decision today is based on interpretation of Wisconsin's recreational use statute which predates that of many other jurisdictions,
Our decision follows the legislative directive contained in 1983 Wis. Act 418 that the recreational use statute "should be liberally construed in favor of the property owners to protect them from liability." See also Linville, 184 Wis. 2d at 715. In keeping with that directive, and to give effect to the intent of the legislature, we conclude that under Wisconsin's recreational use statute, § 895.52(2)(a), Mosinee owed no duty to Verdoljak who had entered the property to engage in a recreational activity and, therefore, Mosinee is not liable for the injury incurred by Verdoljak while engaging in that activity. Thus, we affirm the decision of the court of appeals.
By the Court.—The decision of the court of appeals is affirmed.
Mosinee contends that the concept that owners can limit the types of recreation allowed on their land and yet still benefit both the public and themselves by "opening" the land to public access is not only contemplated by the above statute (which enumerates only specific activities) but is explicitly permitted under Wis. Admin. Code § NR 46.21(3)(b), which provides that:
As the courts of Wisconsin have used it, the concept of "openness" relates to public policy and legislative purpose—it has never been and is not now, as this opinion clarifies, an "element" of the statute that a landowner needs to satisfy in order to be afforded immunity.