I recently wrote an article for Progressive Cattleman discussing the importance of landowners being aware of the various landowner liability statutes that exist in their state.
All 50 states have at least one (most states have multiple) statute that offers limited liability to landowners in the event someone is injured on their property, so long as certain requirements are met. The National Agricultural Law Center has a collection of various statutes for each state in their Reading Room. For those of you in Texas, I published a legal education article discussing our state’s rules in detail, which is available here.
The details vary greatly by state, but the statutes can generally be grouped into three main categories.
Recreational use statutes.
All 50 states have passed some version of a recreational-use statute. Recreational-use statutes are designed to encourage private landowners to enter private property for recreational purposes. In order to provide this incentive, these statutory schemes offer limited liability for landowners meeting their requirements.
Generally, these statutes apply to protect landowners from liability if a person is injured on their land while engaging in a recreational purpose. Although the specific definition of “recreational purpose” differs by state statute, most include common activities such as hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, swimming, water sports and nature walks.
Landowners should carefully review the requirements of the statute in their own state, as there may be requirements regarding whether a landowner may charge a fee and still be protected, or a certain level of liability insurance may be required in order to fall within the statutory scheme.
As with most statutes, there are exceptions to the offered protection. In Texas, for example, a landowner may still be liable for intentional acts or gross negligence, despite the state’s recreational-use statute. Landowners should carefully review their state’s statutory requirements.
Agritourism statutes are a fairly new form of landowner protection. Over half of the states have adopted some form of agritourism statute. As would be expected, these statues vary greatly by state. In general, the statutes are designed to encourage local tourism and economic development by offering protections to agritourism entities in certain situations.
The requirements that must be met to obtain this protection are extremely diverse among states. In Oklahoma and North Dakota, for example, an entity must register with the state in order to be deemed a protected agritourism entity.
In Texas, conversely, no registration is required, but the entity must either hang up certain signage or obtain a signed release containing specific language from participants. In Missouri, an operator must register with the state and post required signage for protection to be available.
Equine/farm animal liability acts.
Most states (all but California, Maryland, Nevada and New York) have some sort of statute limiting liability if a person is injured while engaged in an equine or farm animal activity. Generally, these statutes offer protection to the landowner if a person’s injury is caused by a danger inherent to participating in this type of activity.
For example, under the Texas Farm Animal Liability Act, when a rider was bucked off a horse on a trail ride after the horse was spooked by a tree limb brushing his flank, this was found to be an inherent risk of engaging in an equine activity, and the statutory protection applied.
Conversely, most state statutes include a list of exceptions that would not be covered by the statutory protections.
One common exception that would not allow liability protection is when a landowner provides defective tack to a participant. This is not considered an inherent risk in most states and, therefore, the landowner may still face liability despite the statute.
The scope of these statutes varies among states as well. Many states offer protections only to equine animals, while others have modified their laws to extend to all farm animals.
Landowner liability is an issue that is governed by state law, and all landowners should take the time to review and understand basic liability law and to be aware of any statutory protections available in their state.
Further, all landowners should carefully consult with their insurance agents and ensure they have a liability policy covering the various activities occurring on their property.