Pa. Farm Bureau fighting for farmers’ liability protection

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HARRISBURG, Pa. – More than 300 farmers converged on the state capital as part of Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s 2007 State Legislative Conference.
Those attending urged members of the General Assembly to take action on key issues impacting agriculture, including legislation that would strengthen an existing law that provides liability protection for farmers and other landowners who allow hunters and others on their land for recreational purposes.
Legislation. Pennsylvania Farm Bureau advocated passage of House Bill 13, House Bill 74 and Senate Bill 735, which amend Pennsylvania’s Recreational Use of Land and Water Act of 1965.
The bills would clarify that landowners are not subject to liability for actions caused by a recreational user, regardless of whether the damages or injuries occur on or off the landowner’s property.
“Although the existing act and the proposed bills provide liability protection for landowners, they do not prevent the injured party from recovering damages from the individual who caused the injury,” said Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Carl T. Shaffer.
Farm Bureau points out that victims of negligible acts still have rights.
Test case. A 2006 court case in which the owners of a Lehigh County orchard were found partially liable for damages in a lawsuit – in which a stray bullet fired by a hunter traveled about a half-mile before accidentally striking a woman sitting in a car on a different property – sparked the need to review and amend the existing act.
“All I did was give a hunter permission to hunt on my land, which I’ve done many times in the past. The next thing I know, my family’s future is in jeopardy due to a stray shot from my farmland,” said Dan Haas, who along with his wife Pam, own Overlook Orchards in Lehigh County.
Ramifications. Farm Bureau noted that many farmers will choose to limit or exclude hunters or other outdoors enthusiasts from their property if farmers are not sure of protection from liability.
“As a farmer, I take on many operating risks on a day-to-day basis, but the risk of an unwarranted lawsuit is simply too great,” said Elder Vogel, Beaver County Farm Bureau president.
“Farmers won’t gamble their farm if they know that the actions of others can put everything they own in jeopardy.”
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau has heard suggestions that farmers should take on the responsibility of making sure guest hunters are familiar with safe hunting procedures and even purchase insurance to protect themselves from this type of liability.
“Farmers are not game wardens, police officers or lawyers. If they have to jump through hoops to allow someone on their land, they will simply say no,” added Shaffer.

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