7 Ways Farmers and Property Owners Can Manage Liability Risks During Hunting SeasonNovember 5, 2020
Fall brings many changes to rural America. The landscape changes quickly as the harvest season gets underway. And, as October and November roll around, many people look for recreational hunting opportunities around the agricultural lands all across the nation. Hunting can provide a viable means of wildlife management. Also, for farmers, it can be an important way to mitigate crop damage. For this reason, many farmers are willing to allow hunters to use their acreage for recreational purposes, but they also need to manage liability risks during hunting season.
It is important to acknowledge some of the liability risks that can be associated with allowing a 3rd party onto one’s property. Additionally, hunting can often present additional liability exposures that landowners should be aware of and should be sure to address in one way or another. Here are a few ways farmers and property owners can manage liability risks during hunting season if you will be allowing hunters on your property this fall:
1. Get a Signed Waiver of Liability
In scenarios where permission is granted to a hunter to utilize your property to pursue game animals, it is a good idea to make it a requirement that they sign a waiver of liability in exchange for hunting permission. This waiver is a good first step in protecting your financial assets from possible lawsuits brought forth by an injured party.
However, it is important that, as a landowner, you do not rely solely on these waivers as your only means of liability protection. Lawyers are often able to find ways around such legal forms. Waivers also don’t prevent someone from trying to sue you; which can create a huge financial burden to just defend yourself against frivolous claims. The good thing is that, generally speaking, hunters are not a litigious group.
2. Post No Trespassing Signs
Posting No Trespassing signs around your property will not provide you with liability protection if a guest who has been given permissible use of your property is injured as a result of your negligence. However, it will help to establish a reduced amount of accountability as a property owner if an uninvited 3rd party wanders onto your property.
There are different levels of liability you have towards guests vs. simple trespassers vs. malicious trespassers. So, having signs posted is a good way to establish that your property was not “open” to recreational use without permission. Be sure to follow state laws and post signs in the proper spacing and visibility as well as at all “entry points” on the property. This includes driveways or field lanes.
Additionally, if there happen to be hazards on your property, such as a large sink hole in a field, it’s a good idea to take care of these dangers before there is the increased possibility of foot traffic on your property in the fall. At the very least, do not post No Trespassing signs simply around the hazard; this could increase your liability if someone was accidentally injured in a hazard that has been acknowledged but not mitigated.
3. Ask for Proof of Insurance
If a hunter comes and asks permission to hunt on your property, it is a good idea to ask for a certificate of liability insurance. If they have insurance, their agent will be able to print out a current certificate copy for you to keep on hand. A hunter’s homeowner’s insurance policy will provide them with personal liability protection that will “follow” them beyond their residential property.
If they injure another party while hunting on your land, their policy can pay for the bodily injury or the property damage they have caused. This is one of the types of liability coverage on a homeowner’s policy. It is important to keep a couple of things in mind regarding a hunter’s insurance policy:
Make Sure Their Liability Limits Are Sufficient
First, a homeowner’s policy could be written with as little as $100,000 of liability limit, or maybe even less. So, the simple presence of a liability policy doesn’t mean that the limits are sufficient for all types of accidents a hunter could cause.
In the case of grave bodily injuries sustained by a third party as a result of a hunter’s actions who has permission to be on your property, your liability policy could also be leveraged to pay damages that are in excess of the limits of insurance on the hunter’s policy.
Make Sure Their Liability Protection Applies to Your Situation
Secondly, in some scenarios, such as the presence of a property lease or payment in exchange for hunting privileges, the personal liability protection on the hunter’s policy may or may not apply.
If a lease agreement is present, an outdoors liability or sportsman liability policy may be the better option than hoping the personal liability protection on a hunter’s homeowner’s insurance policy will extend to the leasing situation.
4. Establish Safety Zones
Legally, safety zones are automatically established within a certain distance of houses or buildings. Weapons cannot be discharged within a certain radius of these structures without the consent of the owner. However, if your land borders residential housing, be sure that you let the hunter know that that area is off-limits.
Likewise, you may want to establish a perimeter around your own structures to ensure that the hunter knows where they are, and aren’t, allowed to hunt. These safety zones will help protect property, persons, and livestock from uncommon accidental misfires, stray bullets, or ricochets. As such, they are a good common-sense approach to mitigating liability risks and property damage.
5. Limit Permission or Coordinate With Multiple Parties
It is a good idea to limit the hunting permission on your property to a few trusted individuals. In the case where you have granted multiple parties hunting permission, you should inform each party about the other’s permission and encourage them to share contact information with one another.
This will help hunters coordinate which parts of the property each will hunt so that they are aware of the location of other persons on the property and can conduct the safe discharge of their weapons when shooting at game animals.
6. Review Your Own Liability Coverage
It is a good idea to ensure that you have the proper liability protection in place for yourself before permitting a hunter to enter your property. As mentioned above, a lease situation can change how your liability coverage responds to accidents.
So, make a quick phone call to your independent agent to make sure that you are properly covered on your farm insurance or homeowner’s insurance policy. It is always better to have the conversation up-front than to find out you do not have the correct coverage after an accident happens.
7. Don’t Create Hazards
Much of the above has been about mitigating liability concerns around permissive property use. However, unfortunately, every year there are some landowners who have to deal with some bad apples who choose to trespass on posted property. While this can be an incredibly frustrating reality of land ownership, avoid the temptation to create hazards or “traps” on your property.
There are always a few stories that come out each year about land owners who go to extreme measures to deter trespassers; from setting trip wires with explosive paint cannisters to digging trenches or stringing wire across access or four-wheeler paths. Avoid using these types of measures to keep people off your land.
Deliberately creating a hazard, even to “catch” a trespasser, can have serious legal consequences and void your liability coverage protections. One of the ways to protect yourself and manage liability risks during hunting season is to avoid creating situations with dangerous consequences like this.
If you have a problem with a trespasser, the best approach is to try to get photo evidence of the trespassing by use of a motion detection game camera or by taking pictures of a vehicle and its license plate that has entered your property without permission. Then, contact the local authorities with your evidence and allow them to deal with the individual.
Hunters can provide land owners with valuable assistance in managing the game populations on their land. If you plan to allow folks to recreate on your property this fall, simply be sure to take the proper precautions to ensure that all liability concerns are addressed.
These are a few ways farms and property owners can manage liability risks during hunting season. If you would like to further discuss your premises liability coverage for your farm or residence property, give one of our experienced agricultural insurance agents a call at 1-800-537-6880 or 717-665-2283.
Disclaimer: Information and claims presented in this content are meant for informative, illustrative purposes and should not be considered legally binding.