The Extent of a Landowner’s Liability is Often Determined by the Relationship Between the Guest and Landowner
By Ben Norman
||George Browder (left) discusses safety rules with guest Al Sanders (center) as master guide Horace Burgans looks on.
Guests arriving at Paradise Adventures Hunting Lodge, located north of Petry in Crenshaw County, can expect to see a lot of deer. Hunters looking out over the lush food plots from comfortable shooting houses have one thing on their mind - shooting one of the monster bucks that prowl the 4500 acres of well managed hardwood bottoms and upland food plots.
"We know that if you plant the right food, lime and fertilize right, you will attract and hold deer. We buy our seed and fertilizer at the Luverne Cooperative Service’s store. Raymond Trotter and the other store personnel really know their business," said Paradise Adventures Lodge owner, George Browder.
Browder says he certainly wants his hunters to harvest a deer, but the primary thought on his mind is safety. "We meet our hunters at the lodge, help them unload their gear, and then I immediately conduct a brief but thorough safety meeting. Each hunter must sign a statement that they are aware of the safety rules and understand them. Most of our rules are just common sense, like wearing hunter orange, proper target identification, proper firearm handling and being properly equipped. We insist that each hunter carry a small flashlight to help prevent falls when going to the stands."
Private vehicles are left at the lodge and Browder or master guide Horace Burgans will transport hunters to and from their stands. "We do not allow ATVs or other personal vehicles in the hunting area," said Browder.
He explains that adequate liability insurance is a must for any landowner who has recreational guests visiting their property, not just those operating a commercial hunting lodge. "I recommend every landowner check with their insurance agent and find out just what their policy covers."
Will Gunter, Deputy Legal Counselor with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, agrees that adequate liability coverage is necessary. "Any landowner would be prudent to purchase adequate liability insurance because of the potential liability and the cost of litigation."
Gunter says that Alabama law dealing with a landowner’s duties and responsibilities vary according to the relationship the landowner has with the person on the landowner’s property. "Basically, a person on the land of another will fall under one of four classifications - invitee, licensee, social guest, or trespasser - and the liabilities and duties owed each classification are as follows."
INVITEE- a person who enters and remains upon the premises of another at the expressed or implied invitation of the owner or occupant and for a purpose in which the owner or occupant of the premises has a beneficial interest. The duty of the owner or occupant of premises to an invitee is to be reasonably sure that he is not inviting another into danger and to exercise ordinary care to render and keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition.
LICENSEE- a person who enters or remains on the premises of another by invitation, permission, or acquiescence of the one in possession, for the licensee’s own benefit, convenience, or pleasure. The duty of the owner or occupant of premises to a licensee is not to willfully or wantonly injure him, nor negligently injure him after discovering he is in a position of peril.
SOCIAL GUEST- one who is on the premises of another for reasons purely social, with no mutuality of benefit in a business or commercial sense. The duty of an owner or occupant of premises to a social guest is not to willfully or wantonly injure him, nor negligently injure him after discovering he is in a position of peril.
TRESPASSER- (1) a person who goes upon the premises of another without permission or invitation, express or implied or (2) a person who, after rightfully entering upon the premises of another remains on the premises after consent or license to enter or use the premises has been terminated. Landowner owes the duty to refrain from intentionally injuring a trespasser (such as laying a trap for him) and after knowledge of the trespasser’s presence to exercise reasonable diligence to warn him of dangers known by the proprietor to exist on his premises.
Gunter advises warning all guests of any known hazards on the property. "If you have an aggressive dog, bull, or other animal you should warn all guests and even put up signs to alert them. Even if it’s a trespasser, tell them, you can still have them arrested later if you want to."
Rex Seabrook, ALFA’S Farm Owner Underwriting Manager, says "ALFA made some changes in 2001 to its Farm Owner Liability Policy that increases the hunting liability coverage for the insured, family, and friends of the insured when no fee is charged for hunting privileges. Landowners who lease their land to individuals or hunting clubs for a fee are not automatically covered. The lessee will need to maintain a separate liability policy naming the landowner as an additional insured. Once the lessee obtains separate coverage, then ALFA offers coverage to the landowner through an endorsement to their Farm Owner Policy.
"Landowners who offer day hunts, guided hunts or operate a hunting lodge for a fee are not covered under the Farm Owner Liability Policy, but may purchase a commercial liability policy from ALFA.
"Experience has shown us that if someone gets hurt hunting, before they can recover damages, the landowner has to be proven negligent. But even if you are not negligent, the legal fees can be astronomical. Most insurance policies will pay your legal fees even if you are not negligent. If you own land and let people hunt, even if it’s just friends, you need adequate liability coverage."
To book a hunt at Paradise Adventures Lodge call 334-537-4454.
Ben Norman is a freelance writer from Highland Home.