Law boosts protection for Pa. landowners

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SALEM, Ohio – A new law in Pennsylvania has landowners breathing a little easier. Gov. Ed Rendell signed legislation June 30 that increases liability protection for those who allow recreational activities on their property.
The legislation amended the state’s Recreational Use of Land and Water Act, which has offered liability protection to landowners for more than 40 years.
Court case. The amendment was prompted by a 2006 court case involving a Lehigh County farmer.
The farmer, Dan Haas, allowed a hunter on his land and during the course of the hunt, a stray bullet from the hunter’s gun traveled off the Haas’ property and struck a woman half a mile away. The court found the farmer partially liable for the accident.
The land and water use act pertains to activities like hunting, fishing, swimming and hiking. Landowners are protected from liability as long as they do not charge a fee for the use of their property.
Unanimous. The legislation – House Bill 13 – was met with enthusiasm from Pennsylvania’s lawmakers, passing unanimously through the House and Senate.
The passage sends a big message, according to Haas. A message that landowners should be protected in situations such as this. He is hoping his case prompts other states to follow suit.
“You have to have this safety protection all over, almost nationwide,” he said.
John Bell, governmental affairs counsel for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, said the new law should help restore the confidence landowners had prior to the Lehigh County case.
He said it’s “not an absolute protection, but it certainly provides protection in the overwhelming majority of situations landowners will face.”
The bill balances the rights of a landowner and the rights those who are injured, according to Carl Shaffer, the state’s Farm Bureau president. He said it provides reasonable liability safeguards for property owners, but doesn’t prevent an injured person from recovering damages from those who caused the harm.
Sponsors. Rep. Harry Readshaw (Allegheny County) was the prime sponsor of the bill. Sen. Rob Wonderling (Bucks, Lehigh, Northampton and Montgomery counties) sponsored legislation in the Senate.
With the 2007 hunting season approaching, time was a crucial element for the bill. After the Lehigh County case, many of the state’s landowners barred their property from public use.
“Without our action, this situation would have amounted to a train wreck for hunters and financial ruin for the many businesses that rely on Pennsylvania hunters and visitors from out of state for much of their income,” Readshaw said.
The landowner liability protection law went into effect immediately.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at jskrinjar@farmanddairy.com.)

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