Recreational Trespass Statutes Most Favorable to Landowners
The states listed below have proven the most successful in protecting landowners from liability for injuries to persons or property sustained by recreational users. In general, the strength of these statutes stems from their broad and comprehensive language specifically drafted to protect landowners’ interests. Thus, through their protection, these statutes encourage landowners to allow public access on their private property for recreational purposes such as hunting and fishing. The most notable strengths of each state’s recreational trespass statutes are summarized below.
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Arkansas’ statute permits contributions to landowners in an effort to alleviate costs or losses to private property caused by recreational use. In addition, it supports the sharing of recreational use products like fish and game without classifying those products as “charges” which would void landowner immunity from liability. Finally, this statute incorporates comprehensive definitions of key terms like “land,” “owner,” “public,” and “recreational purpose,” which prevent potential plaintiffs from poking holes in statutory language in an attempt to penetrate landowner liability protection.
Florida’s statute does not hold a landowner liable for third persons injured by a recreational user on the landowner’s property (e.g., if the injured party was on an adjacent property).
Idaho’s statute holds the recreational user liable to the landowner for any damages he or she causes to property, livestock, or crops.
According to the Iowa statute, a landowner is immune from liability for any injuries sustained to a recreational user once the person enters the premises for a recreational purpose, even if the person was not actually engaged in recreation at the time of injury.
Kentucky’s statute protects landowners against property right claims based solely on recreational use of the land.
According to the Maine statute, if and when a landowner is determined exempt from liability, the suing recreational land user is responsible for paying all reasonable legal fees, which discourages frivolous lawsuits. Additionally, a landowner is not liable for persons who enter the premises to use, maintain, or improve the property in pursuance of recreational activities, whether or not they were actually engaging in the activity at the time of injury.
Missouri’s statute contains a very broad definition of “recreational use” that include activities, “undertaken for recreation, exercise, education, or pleasure,” making it comprehensive of nearly any action on privately owned land. Also, the statute does not hold a landowner liable for third persons injured by a recreational user of the landowner’s property.
The North Dakota statute allows for landowner immunity from liability even if fees for recreational use of the property were collected in previous years, as long as the fees did not exceed the specified amounts determined by property taxes.
In Pennsylvania, a landowner’s immunity from liability extends to injuries sustained by recreational users at any point after the user enters the land for recreational purposes, whether or not the recreational use has begun. Favorable to non-developed properties, the Pennsylvania courts use a five factor test that examines the use, size, location, openness, and extent of improvement of the land to determine whether the landowner should be granted immunity. Typically, landowner immunity is extended when the land is less developed and more rural.
The Virginia statute bolsters a landowner’s immunity from liability by not classifying incidental sales of forest products for personal use, improvements to the land, and improvements to land access for recreational purposes as “fees.” In addition, any legal costs incurred by landowners from lawsuits for injuries sustained on privately-owned land that is part of an easement held by a governmental entity must be paid by that governmental entity (this benefit cannot be waived).