Lawmakers hope to reduce liability for re-enactments

January 20, 1998

Lawmakers hope to reduce liability for re-enactments


Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - Last year's commemoration of the 135th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam was such a success that one Maryland lawmaker wants to increase its chances of happening again.

Del. Dana L. Dembrow, D-Montgomery, has introduced legislation aimed at reducing the risk of lawsuits filed against people who allow their land to be used for historical and cultural re-enactments.

"The purpose of the bill is to encourage people to make their property available," Dembrow said.

Dembrow, a Civil War buff who has a particular interest in the Battle of Antietam, attended the three-day event last September and came away impressed with the spectacle, which attracted tens of thousands of spectators and re-enactors.


"It was perhaps the greatest performance I have ever seen," he said.

Dembrow also met Frank Artz, who allowed his 612-acre farm on Rench Road south of Hagerstown to be used for the event.

"It occurred to me how wonderful it was that this guy stepped forward to make this happen," he said.

It also occurred to Dembrow that Artz could have placed himself at some civil risk had anyone been injured on the property. For example, if someone had tripped on one of the farm's many groundhog holes, the result might have been a suit against Artz, he said.

Dembrow said existing laws provide immunity for owners of property where certain recreational activities, such as hang-gliding, take place. His bill would extend that civil immunity to historical and cultural activities like re-enactments.

During the Antietam event, one re-enactor died from a heart attack and other people received various injuries. But Artz said Tuesday that the risk of being sued never occurred to him, in part because the event was heavily insured for liability.

"That wasn't too much of concern. In fact, I had too many other things to worry about," he said.

Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, who is co-sponsoring the Dembrow bill along with Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said the legislation is needed to prevent any possible litigation.

"It's a real problem," Poole said.

Artz has said he would be willing to host another event, something that is already in the works. Poole, said preliminary discussions involve a multi-state event to be held in 2000.

To get more lawmakers interested in the legislation, Dembrow said he plans to promote the bill by using videos and other visual aids from the re-enactment, "to bring it to life here in Annapolis."

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