During the summer months, many hunters seek to secure leases for recreational properties, primarily for deer and waterfowl seasons. However, recreational use goes beyond hunting to include activities such as fishing, swimming, boating, water sports, skiing, camping, picnicking, hiking, pleasure driving, nature study, bird watching and many others.
A large number of landowners, especially farmers, are trending towards supplemental incomes by leasing out their properties for the purposes of hunting, fishing and other interests. If you’re planning to lease your property, you must be aware of the liability risks these activities pose and plan accordingly.
Most states have statutes in place to protect agricultural and rural landowners from liability when free access for recreation is given to the public, unless a landowner intentionally or recklessly does harm—but, when a property is leased with the requirement of money or other valuable consideration, most state laws generally do not protect a landowner from liability. In addition, the majority of general liability policies exclude hunting and recreation, leaving a landowner at risk if additional insurance is not purchased by the landowner, lessee or both.
Landowners who include hunting rights in an agricultural lease may unknowingly be at risk. A tenant could be running a hunting business on the landowner’s farm and not only is the landowner not being compensated for those hunting rights but he or she could also be liable if an injury or death occurs.
There are two prime and easy ways for landowners to avoid unnecessary risk while still cashing in on multiple sources of income: 1) maintain adequate liability insurance and 2) enforce a comprehensive lease agreement with tenants.
Limiting your exposure to hunting and recreational liability is critical. Major accidents are rare, but don’t lose the farm due to a lack of liability coverage. Obtaining adequate liability insurance is well worth the price you pay for the coverage in order to ensure you are protected. It is also crucial to have well-drafted lease agreements with any tenants who wish to lease properties for recreational use.
This information is provided by Stephen Crancer, Partner at White & Associates Insurance, owner of Liberty Hill Outfitters and Chris E. Brown, Attorney at Law with Walker & Knight. Contact Stephen and Chris for additional information regarding landowner liability.