At ALEI, we often hear concerns about liability from folks in the agriculture community who lease or allow their property to be used for hunting. In recognition of these concerns, the Maryland General Assembly recently passed a law expanding certain liability protection provisions which apply to cross-country skiing and using off-highway vehicles, to cover hunting.
Maryland's recreational use statute, described in more detail in this past post, considerably reduces legal responsibility for landowners when they allow others to use their property for a recreational purpose (including hunting) for no charge. However, when a landowner charges a fee, such as a hunting lease, the landowner is not able to benefit from the law's protections. To read an extension bulletin on this topic click here.
Under current Maryland law, a hunter may not go onto another person’s land to hunt without written permission (Maryland Code, Natural Resources Article, Section 10-411(a)). Further, any hunter on private property is liable for any damage caused to the property, and the landowner is not liable for accidental injury or damage to the hunter (Section 10-411(b-c)). However, even with these laws in place, landowners still face liability exposure for hunting related incidents and costly insurance coverage when they charge visitors to hunt.
Under the newly amended law (Maryland Code, Natural Resources Article, Section 5-1109), as of October 1, 2017 a person who uses the property of another for hunting implicitly consents to adhere to every law, observe every safety precaution and practice, to take every precaution against fire and to assume all responsibility and liability for their own safety while hunting.
Further, when a landowner leases property for hunting, the landowner can secure written consent from the leaseholder giving permission to be on the property subject to agreeing to observe every safety precaution and practice, take every precaution against fire, and assume all responsibility and liability for their own safety while hunting, using a pre-printed “permission card” from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources available here. Click here to read the bill in its entirety.
The fact that a hunter, whether through implied or written consent, is responsible for his own safety while hunting on another’s property is beneficial for landowners. Typically landowners have varying levels of responsibility to keep visitors safe depending on the type of visitor and liability for injuries if it is proven that they failed in their duty to keep visitors safe. Check out this ALEI video to learn more about the levels of landowner responsibility and premise liability in Maryland. A hunter, paying to be on a property, would most likely be considered an "invitee" which means a landowner would have the responsibility to protect the hunter from all reasonably known dangers and failure to do so would be considered negligence.
The new expansion of liability protection makes it clear that when a hunter is on another’s property, his safety is his sole responsibility and not that of the landowner (which should make insuring a property for leased hunting easier). Hopefully this law will encourage landowners to fully utilize their property with less fear of liability. However, although liability is reduced it is not eliminated and a well-written hunting lease, adequate insurance coverage and good risk management practices, such as regularly inspecting the property and correcting any known dangers, can be very beneficial to landowners.