Landowners and Hunters Hold Similar Responsibilities to Minimize Injury Risks
A hunter from Allen, Michigan kicked off the Michigan deer hunting season with a story to tell for the decades. Andy Harpster landed a 40-pound, 11-point buck on his private Hillsdale County property with a bow shot. He had been watching this particular deer for nearly four years on his trail cameras and in his fields. As exciting as the bag was for Harpster, his story shares an important note about the role landowner property rights play during the hunting season. Since Harpster hunted the 60+ year old buck on his own land, he didn’t have to worry about property or landowner liability for himself. Other hunters don’t have that same access though, and may have to turn to lease arrangements that provide them the ability to engage in the sport on a landowner’s privately-owned property. With this arrangement does come certain liability concerns for landowners. If you are a Michigan deer hunter or a landowner who leases your private property for hunters to use, here is what you need to know.
Landowners May Be Protected Under The Law
Lawsuits filed against landowners by hunters are not common but still an important topic to understand and remain informed on. Part 733 of Michigan’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act provides landowners with premises liability protection when a third party is injured on the landowner’s property. The landowner is protected regardless of whether or not the people entering the property have permission or not, or whether the landowner charges fees or not.
For example, if a landowner, such as a farmer, decides to lease their property to a hunter or hunting group for the purpose of the sport, the landowner may have legal protections against potential lawsuits if someone has been injured. Should that owner fail to warn hunters of potential dangers on the property, neglect to post trespassing and other warning signs, or act in a negligent manner that puts hunters or others needlessly in harm’s way, he or she might be liable. In the case of proving a landowner to be liable of the injury, the person bringing suit must prove that the owner:
- Knew or had reason to know of a condition or risk,
- Failed to exercise reasonable care to make the condition safe, or to warn the person of the risk, and
- The person injured had no reason to know of the condition or risk.
Although the Act’s protections are not absolute, the law seeks to limit a property owner’s liability when he or she leases land for recreational purposes with the goal of making land and water areas more available to the public for outdoor recreational activities. Owners of hunting lands, as well as hunting clubs, are advised to obtain hunting land and lease liability insurance to protect themselves and their assets.
In addition, Michigan’s Hunting Access Program (HAP), is a financial opportunity for landowners that also provides public hunting opportunities in most counties throughout the state, specifically in Michigan’s lower and eastern upper peninsulas where landowners possess 40 or more acres. The DNR leases these private lands from landowners who give licensed hunters access to their property, generally on a first-come, first-served basis. The Michigan Legislature has addressed the concern some landowners had over sharing access to their lands because of legal liability for hunting. Landowners are free from liability as stated in P.A. 451 of 1994: “No cause of action shall arise for injuries to persons hunting on lands leased under HAP unless the injuries were caused by gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct of owner, tenant, or lessee.”
Hunters Can Also Be Held Accountable
Michigan hunters may encounter legal liabilities as well each time they hunt on land that is not their own. Hunters who plan to hunt on a piece of private land need to ask permission first or they could, at the very least, face trespassing charges. Sportsmen and women who hunt need to fully understand the laws and restrictions in the hunting area and minimize potential legal liabilities for which they could be held accountable by practicing hunting safely at all times. Hunting on someone else’s land (with permission) comes with extra responsibilities as a guest of the landowner and these simple rules should be followed:
- Check to make sure that ATVs can be used and know what areas are safe to use them. ATV use should be limited to established roadways and trails, and they should not be used in heavily wooded areas.
- Communicate your whereabouts to the landowner prior to your hunting expedition.
- Do not ever block field access routes or drive in fields without the landowner’s permission.
- Know the property boundaries and do not trespass on adjacent properties.
- Never leave trash or campfires lit (if allowed).
- Place well-built and safe tree stands or build blinds only with the landowner’s permission. Use the appropriate safety harnesses.
- Observe all hunting and trapping rules and regulations.
- Observe all instructions of the landowner outlined within your agreement.
- Observe safety zones around buildings and farm equipment.
- Stay out of standing crops and farm fields.
While hunting in Michigan remains a popular outdoor activity, important to the ecology of the state, it remains high priority that gun safety and property owner management is practiced the right way. Following these simple safety tips could prevent a serious lifelong injury caused by a careless hunting or firearms accident.
Michigan Hunting Accident Lawyers at the Law Offices of Lee Steinberg
If you or someone you know was injured in a hunting accident caused by another person’s negligence or recklessness of a landowner or by faulty equipment, the hunting accident attorneys at the Law Offices of Lee Steinberg are here for you. We have decades of experience with product liability cases related to hunting equipment and are personal injury experts.
For us, it really is about ensuring the hunters of Michigan are safe from harm while engaging in their favorite hobby, and if they are injured, we want them to know we’re here to represent them in their personal injury claim. A personal injury or wrongful death claim holds the responsible party accountable for negligence and can ease financial burdens. If a hunting accident has impacted your family or property, call us today for a completely free consultation: 1-800-LEE-FREE.