SALEM, Ohio – Pennsylvania landowners will have the law on their side if House Bill 13 is approved by the state’s Senate.
Passed unanimously by the House May 23, House Bill 13 would strengthen an existing law that protects landowners from liability if they allow recreational activities on their property.
The existing law – the Recreational Use of Land and Water Act – gives a landowner liability protection from accidents that occur on his land as a result of activities like hunting, fishing, swimming and snowmobiling. But it doesn’t offer any support for damage caused by those recreational users that happens off the landowner’s property.
For landowners who allow hunting, House Bill 13 would change that and give them relief from legal concerns.
Accident. The bill is the result of a hunting accident that injured a pregnant woman in Lehigh County. A hunter, who had permission to be on the property of an orchard owner, fired a shot at a deer. The bullet traveled half a mile – off the orchard owner’s property – and struck the woman, who was sitting in a car in a driveway.
The woman recovered and her child was OK, but she later filed a lawsuit. A jury determined the hunter was 90 percent liable for damages, while the other 10 percent of liability fell on the landowner.
Such situations are a scary thought for anyone who allows other people onto their property. Especially for farmers, who are already taking risks with everything from weather to machinery, said Mark O’Neill, media relations director for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.
“Without this type of protection, they’re not going to allow the people on their property,” he added.
Just hunting. Sponsored by Rep. Harry Readshaw, D-Allegheny, House Bill 13 applies only to hunting and it protects only landowners who do not charge a fee for the use of their property.
The bill originally included provisions for other recreational uses like hiking, fishing and driving four-wheelers, but Readshaw removed them from the bill in committee in order to move it to a House vote more quickly.
“There are fears for the impact on hunters and also on the merchants who depend on hunting for a large portion of their livelihood, unless we get the liability issue taken care of well before the opening of the small- and big-game seasons this fall,” Readshaw said.
He said state lawmakers should act swiftly because more and more landowners are closing their property in reaction to the Lehigh County case. With the 2007 hunting season approaching, that could be bad news for Pennsylvania’s hunters.
Not new. The idea of protecting landowners is nothing new, according to O’Neill. The Recreational Use of Land and Water Act has been around for 40 years.
“The whole idea behind it was to inspire farmers and landowners to allow others to use their land for recreational use,” he said.
And it’s the same motivation pushing House Bill 13, O’Neill added.
Farmers need hunters to reduce deer populations on their property and decrease damage caused by the animals. Hunters need farmers and other landowners in order to practice their sport.
The relationship is a two-way street and O’Neill said it will only be able to continue if landowners are freed from liability concerns.
He added the implications of bill would go beyond just farmers and hunters – it sets a standard for all types of recreational activities.
“All Pennsylvanians have a stake in this,” he said.
The bill will now move to the Senate where it is expected to be referred to the Game and Fisheries Committee. Readshaw said recreational land uses not addressed in this bill will be taken up in future legislation.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)