Recreational Land Use – A Liability Risk for Farmers and Landowners?

March 10, 2011

Farmers and landowners have the unique privilege of being asked, over and over again, for permission to use their land for recreational purposes. From motorcycle and four-wheeler riders wanting a place to have a little off-roading fun to high school kids looking for a paintball tournament location, anyone who owns a parcel of land will likely be asked for permission to use that land at some point.

The National Agricultural Law Center has written a detailed report outlining the liability issues you may face if you give permission for people to enter your land for recreational purposes. The report includes a lot of detailed information, but here are a few basic points to get you started…

Giving people permission to enter your land always involves some element of risk. Anyone with permission to enter your land for their own purposes will be considered a licensee (this includes your social guests). You owe these people a duty of care to warn them of dangerous conditions on the land of which you have knowledge.

The degree of your risk is increased if you decide to charge others for using your land. An invitee, a person who enters the land with your permission for your financial benefit, is owed an even greater duty of care. The invitee enters under the assumption that you have “taken reasonable care to make the premises safe for its intended recreational use.” Many landowners post disclaimers or ask individuals to sign disclaimers, but their effectiveness is limited if you have not taken necessary precautions to ensure that you’re providing a safe environment and notice of risks and dangers.  If you run a U-pick farm, let people choose pumpkins, give hayrides, or any other number of activities you might invite people onto your farm to do, consider your liability risks and duty of care carefully.  Besides protecting yourself from liability, it’s just good common sense.  You want to keep people safe.

Most importantly, if you’re thinking about letting people use your land for recreational purposes, become familiar with your state’s laws about recreational land use. Minnesota’s Statute can be found here under the heading “Public Benefit or Function Activities.”

We rural folks are known for being generous and accommodating, so don’t let liability issues keep you from sharing with your friends and neighbors who want to use your land. But keep in mind that you may owe those people a safe place to play or, at the very least, a warning about the condition of your property. For advice about what duty of care might be owed to people using or entering your land, please call my office to discuss your circumstances.

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