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When Is a Virginia Property Owner Liable for Injuries to Hunters Under the Recreational Use Statute?

With our popular Virginia hunting season just around the corner, landowners and hunters should know about the state’s law relating to property owner liability for injuries to hunters. The same rules also apply to injuries suffered by other recreational users in the state.

The area of law referred to as premises liability includes general principles for determining the responsibility of a property owner when someone suffers injuries on the property. When a specific state law sets the rules for a type of premises liability, the provisions of the statute determine liability in cases that fall within the law. For injuries to hunters and other recreational users, Virginia’s recreational use statute sets the rules for landowner liability when a visitor receives injuries on the owner’s property.

Provisions of the Virginia Recreational Use Law

Virginia Code § 29.1-509 includes all the provisions of the recreational use law. The statute is somewhat long and complex. The primary section relating to landowner liability is Subsection B, which provides that a landowner owes “no duty of care to keep land or premises safe for entry or use” for any recreational use. The uses include:

  • Hunting
  • Fishing
  • Trapping
  • Camping
  • Water sports
  • Boating
  • Hiking
  • Rock Climbing
  • Sightseeing
  • Hang gliding
  • Skydiving
  • Horseback riding
  • Foxhunting
  • Racing
  • Bicycle riding
  • Collecting, gathering, cutting or removing firewood
  • Any other recreational use

The immunity from liability granted by the law also covers entering and leaving (referred to as “ingress and egress”) over the premises to get to another property used for recreation and easements granted for public access to parks, historic sites, and other public recreational areas.

The statute goes on to list specifically the elements of the landowner’s immunity from liability for all of the enumerated activities. Subsection C of the law states that property owner who allows recreational activities covered by the statute does not:

1. Impliedly or expressly represent that the premises are safe for such purposes; or

2. Constitute the person to whom such permission has been granted an invitee or licensee to whom a duty of care is owed; or

3. Assume responsibility for or incur liability for any intentional or negligent acts of such person or any other person, except as provided in subsection D.

Subsection D includes provisions detailing when a property owner is liable for injuries to recreational users. Immunity from liability under the statute does not apply in three situations:

  • When the property owner is otherwise liable for “gross negligence or willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity”
  • When the landowner accepts a fee for use of the premises or engaging in the activity
  • In a sporting event or competition, including a race or triathlon, a sponsor or operator has the duty to exercise ordinary care in the event
  • When an owner of a low-head dam fails to implement safety measures described in the law

Private landowners often grant use of their property for public purposes through arrangements with state or local governments or agencies, non-profit corporations, and regional or local authorities. A specific provision of the statute gives the landowner immunity from liability to a member of the public arising out of use of the owner’s land arising from that type agreement, easement, or license. The law also provides for indemnification of the landowner in the event of a claim or lawsuit attempting to impose liability, subject to the provisions of the Virginia Tort Claims Act.

Landowner Liability for Injuries to Hunters

The preceding discussion details all the provisions of the state recreational use statute. If you are a hunter, there are key provisions to be aware of if you suffer injuries when hunting on property where you are not paying a fee to hunt. (If you pay a fee, the recreational use statute does not apply. Liability will be determined under the different legal rules.)

Hunting safety is primarily the responsibility of each hunter. The property owner does not have a duty to keep the property safe for you to use. The owner may be liable if your attorney can demonstrate that the owner was grossly negligent or willfully or maliciously failed to warn of or guard against a danger on the property. The danger can be a condition, structure, activity, or use.

Property owners wishing to allow hunters to use their property under the recreational use statute should take steps to eliminate obvious hazards, like dilapidated buildings and open wells. If the owner cannot eliminate a hazard, it should be fenced off or posted with warning signs.

Landowners who make their property available to hunters often carry additional insurance, which is usually a relatively inexpensive addition to standard policies. As a landowner, you also can ask hunters to show proof of their sportsman insurance.

Talk With an Experienced Virginia Beach Hunting Accident Attorney

If you suffered serious injuries in a hunting accident or you lost a loved one in a hunting accident, you may be able to recover compensation. Rather relying on your own interpretation of Virginia laws, you should consult with Virginia Beach personal injury attorney Jeffrey Brooke.

At The Jeff Brooke Team, we have recovered compensation for victims of hunting accidents and may be able to help you. We will always have your and your family’s interests at heart and aggressively pursue your case to get the full compensation you deserve. Contact us by phone at (757) 552-6055 or by using our online contact form.

Jeff Brooke is a personal injury attorney devoted to helping individuals who have suffered serious and catastrophic injuries or lost a loved one as a result of someone else’s negligent and careless actions. The Jeff Brooke Team serves all of southeastern Virginia. The firm helps clients in the Greater Tidewater and Greater Hampton Roads areas, including in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Chesterfield. The Jeff Brooke Team also handles cases in northeastern North Carolina, including the Outer Banks.

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