A Private Landowner’s Perspective on Liability

By Warren Blesh
Capitol City Insurance

My wife and I were able to purchase a ranch in 1996 when land prices were low (by today’s standards). Like most ranch owners, the value of our land is our biggest asset. As such, we can’t afford to lose it to a large liability suit.

That said, you may have asked yourself the same question we’ve asked ourselves: “Why allow dove hunting on my property, whether it’s letting one person hunt for free or a group for a fee if I might lose the entire ranch due to a lawsuit that results from an accident?”

For this very reason, many private property owners don’t open their gates to the public, resulting in limited dove hunting opportunities for hunters and lost opportunities for landowners who seek additional income to assist with property taxes or other ranch-related expenses.

In 2015, with the help and lobby efforts of many private land and conservation groups, the 84th Legislative Session came to the rescue of private landowners. Chapter 75.A–Limited Liability for Agritourism Activities became law.

In simple terms, the law defined “agricultural land,” “agritourism activity,” “agritourism participants,” and “recreation.” The law says that “the agritourism entity” is not liable for any injury resulting from the agritourism activity if the participant is warned in advance by a gate sign or by signing a document informing him of this.

Here are two simple ways to take advantage of this tort protection.

  • Post a gate sign clearly visible at the main entrance that says:

WARNING

 UNDER TEXAS LAW (CHAPTER 75A, CIVIL PRACTICE AND REMEDIES CODE), AN AGRITOURISM ENTITY IS NOT LIABLE FOR ANY INJURY TO OR DEATH OF AN AGRITOURISM PARTICIPANT RESULTING FROM AN AGRITOURISM ACTIVITY.

  • Before the activity, require that hunters sign a document that says:

AGREEMENT AND WARNING

 I UNDERSTAND AND ACKNOWLEDGE THAT AN AGRITOURISM ENTITY IS NOT LIABLE FOR ANY INJURY TO OR DEATH OF AN AGRITOURISM PARTICIPANT RESULTING FROM AGRITOURISM ACTIVITIES.  I UNDERSTAND THAT I HAVE ACCEPTED ALL RISK OF INJURY, DEATH, PROPERTY DAMAGE, AND OTHER LOSS THAT MAY RESULT FROM AGRITOURISM ACTIVITIES.

Along with the sign and the waiver at our ranch, we have a special insurance policy designed just for hunting and outdoor activities. Please note that you should carefully read your insurance policy to see that the type of hunting on your ranch is covered by the correct policy and or endorsements.

Other third-party persons who could potentially file a claim against a landowner are guides and outfitters who enter the ranch. Most reputable guides and outfitters already have separate policies for their businesses. You can ask that your ranch be named as an additional insured on their policies. This simply transfers some risk to their policy. And, the guide/outfitter should ensure that guests/clients/hunters sign your liability waiver as noted above.

Finally, some landowners prefer to lease to one group for the season or year. This type of group may consist of members/guests who come and go. It is best to require that this type of lease group buy a lease liability policy and name you as additional insured. You should receive a copy of this coverage from their agent.

To sum it up, opening your gates has been made much safer as a result of this law. Properly signed documents and signs, coupled with the correct insurance policy, can offer you the desired peace of mind to open your gates to hunters, helping them experience the great outdoors while adding another income opportunity to your landowner toolbox.

Note: Signs can be purchased from the Texas Wildlife Association office by calling 210-826-2904.