Responsibility of owning land
Whether you are a bird watcher, a hiking enthusiast, a conservationist or hunter, owning your own ground for recreation can be the realization of a life spent working and saving so that one day you could be called a landowner. The joy and satisfaction you receive from spending time with family and friends on your land can be immeasurable and the monetary return on your investment will only serve to validate your decision to own land.
However, with ownership also comes varying levels of responsibility of owning land and a duty to those you invite (and even some you didn’t invite) to hunt or recreate on your property.
As a landowner you may invite family, friends or even employees to an event such as a picnic on your property or you may simply give a hunter permission to hunt deer or turkey. You are to be commended for your generosity and willingness to share access to your farm or land. Allowing others access is not an easy decision and there are steps to be taken to insure the safety and well being of anyone that uses your property.
Any person who has been invited (or simply has your permission) to be on your property for no direct benefit to you is referred to by law as a licensee. Landowners who have opened their property up for others to enjoy must act with reasonable care to provide a safe, hazard free environment. The AHLA has created a guide to make your property safer for guests that can be downloaded free at https://blog.ahuntinglease.org/a-7-step-guide-for-landowners-make-your-property-safer
Professionals invited to be on the property for the benefit of the landowner (forester, land manager, farm lessee etc) are referred to as invitees and should expect a higher level of care provided by the landowner. Since they were invited on the property for the express benefit of the landowner the law is clear. If the landowner is aware of a dangerous condition on his/her property that would pose an unreasonable risk of harm, the owner must take reasonable care to either eliminate the danger or warn visitors. *Note: anytime you have hired a person or company to do work on your property, it is imperative to ask for proof of insurance and to be added to their policy for your protection.
Invitees are provided the highest level of protection because they are on the premises for the sole purpose of furthering the business of the property owner. This means, with respect to invitees, the landowner must take the extra step of inspecting the property and making sure it is safe for visitors.
There is a third category of visitor and that is the uninvited guest or trespasser. A quick internet search reveals that trespassers are afforded a lower level of care. However, if that duty isn’t met landowners have and will be sued by the trespasser. There are only two instances when a landowner is responsible for injuries or damage to a trespasser. If a landowner is aware that people are using his/her land without permission and expects their use to continue, he must take precautions to make the property safe or to keep the trespassers out. If trespassers are using the property without the permission or knowledge of the landowner, the landowner is only responsible for her gross negligence in the event a hazard exists and should have been removed. The second instance landowners can be held responsible for trespassers is called an attractive nuisance. An attractive nuisance is anything that may appeal to a child and naturally entice them to investigate. An old mine or abandoned tractor might both be attractive nuisances to child unaware of trespassing laws.
Make sure you’re covered!
Several states have passed legislation in recent years to help protect landowners from large settlements in the event they are sued while allowing the public to recreate on their land. However, the good intentions of these state legislatures cannot prevent a suit from being filed and therefore costing the landowner time and money to defend themselves.
For a relatively small amount, vacant land insurance (also referred to as timberland or landowner liability insurance) can be purchased which protects landowners from lawsuits. This type of insurance is specifically intended for visitors that have not paid a fee or been charged to access the property. For those instances where a fee is charged (hunting lease) there is a similar, but slightly different liability coverage option.
The American Hunting Lease Association remains committed to protecting the assets of landowners, while providing outdoor enthusiasts with access to as much private land as possible. The responsibility of owning land is great and rewarding. Let us help you make sure you are fully covered.
Visit the American Hunting Lease Association at www.ahuntinglease.org to see how affordable vacant land liability insurance can be.
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