Reducing Liability Risks on your Farm

If you have people to your farm for paid hunting, visits or other events, you may be liable if they are injured while on your property. A successful lawsuit could financially ruin your operation and you personally. However, there are steps you can take to reduce your liability risks.

First, you should definitely consider insurance coverage. Liability insurance provides the deer farmer with a means of shifting to an insurer the financial risk of liability arising from the use of the land. Although insurance won't prevent a landholder from being sued, it will provide you with two important things: a) payment of damages to a third party if they should suffer injuries; and b) an entity to defend you against actions brought by a third party.

In addition, you need to consult with experienced legal counsel to get advice regarding your liabilities and how to reduce them. Each province, state and country has its own laws and regulations governing liability for injuries and defenses to claims from those injured on your land through your activities. You should be aware of the laws in your jurisdiction and how they impact on your liability.

There are other protective measures a landowner can take to limit his or her liability.

Contractual arrangements

Landowners should avoid the practice of informal arrangements with recreational users of their property. If a landowner charges any land entrant a fee for using the landowner's property, then the landowner should have the entrant sign a written contract. The contract should specify the duties and obligations of the entrant, such as closing all gates, staying away from areas where livestock are kept, as well as staying away from any prohibited areas. If the landowner has rules against the use of alcoholic beverages or drugs while the recreational user is on the property, then these rules should also be specified.

1. Indemnification agreements – The contract should contain an indemnification agreement that requires the recreational user to indemnify the landowner for any bodily injuries or property damage the recreational user may cause while using the landowner's property. The agreement should also cover any attorney's fees and other expenses incurred by the landowner as a result of the recreational user's conduct.

Of course it is important to point out that an indemnification agreement is only as good as the source of the indemnification. If the party indemnifying the landowner is insolvent or broke, the indemnification is of no real value to the landowner.

2. Releases – By signing a release, the recreational user of the land contracts to release the landowner from the legal liability of any bodily injuries the user may receive while on the landowner's property. The release should expressly and unequivocally state that it releases the landowner from all liability claims the recreational user might have against the landowner for the negligent providing of goods and services.

Risk management

Some simple risk management measures can also do much to lessen a landowner's liability exposure. Because landowners are so familiar with their own properties, they often forget that what is an obvious danger to them is not necessarily a danger to a visitor to the property. Farmers and ranchers often overestimate land entrants and assume they will exercise more common sense than they actually do.

There following are some of the things you can do to reduce risks of injury or property damage.

1. Conduct routine safety audits of your property. Whatever possible, remove potentially dangerous objects, such as a rusty but sharp piece of old equipment.

2. Fill in abandoned wells or other dangerous holes.

3. When corrective measures are possible, be sure to fence off dangerous areas and, if that is not possible, at least post obvious warning signs.

4. If you have made your property available to multiple hunters at one time, make sure they are all aware of each other's presence, where they will each be hunting, and that they are wearing highly visible safety clothing.

5. As much as possible, keep domestic livestock (including bucks/bulls in rut) and recreational users apart. Get rid of, or at least completely secure, any ill-tempered or vicious animals, including watch dogs.

6. Secure all attractive nuisances, such as barns and working machinery. Many recreational users bring their children with them. You can be held liable if the children are injured, even if their parents were negligent in supervising them.

7. Establish and post guidelines of behaviour for land entrants. For example, if you require children to be constantly supervised by parents you should say so in writing. The same is true if you forbid access to certain parts of your property, or the use of alcoholic beverages. Just as important, require anyone who violates your rules to immediately leave the premises.

8. Make sure you have emergency equipment and supplies handy in case anyone is injured.

9. Carefully screen all of your potential employees and train them as to their duties and responsibilities in dealing with recreational users.

10. Make sure that some of your employees, or you, are trained in life saving and other emergency response measures.

Taking the above precautions will reduce your liability exposure and will give you greater peace of mind when people visit your farm for a variety of reasons.

[Source: Copeland John, D. Recreational Access to Private Lands: Liability Problems and Solutions. 1998: National Center for Agricultural Law Research and Information, University of Arkansas.