Landowner Liability: Hunting Leases, Waivers & the Texas Agritourism Act
Hunting is big business in the Lone Star State. With little state or federally owned land available for public hunting, private landowners occupy a powerful position in terms of supplying usable rural property, and enjoying significant financial opportunities. Texas landowners with ranches, farms, and rural acreage who wish to maximize these opportunities, however, need to invest in their due diligence and management of risks.
At Hendershot Cowart, P.C., our Texas trial lawyers represent landowners across the state in matters involving leases and liability for hunting, recreational, and educational activities on their properties. With attorneys who have deep regional roots and families ingrained in the Texas ranching community, we leverage insight and experience to help landowners with their unique issues – from premises liability and hunting leases to oil and gas, real estate transactions, construction, and other matters of the law.
Risk & Reward: Limiting Liability When Others Use Your Land
Supplemental income for leasing land is a benefit that comes with added liability. Fortunately, Texas has laws which protect landowners against lawsuits that arise from accidents on their property. To manage risks and reap the rewards, it is vital Texas landowners understand and claim their rights to limit liability.
Texas law offers a reduced level of liability to landowners if guests are injured on their land while enjoying various recreational activities, including:
- Hunting and fishing
- Swimming, boating, and water sports
- Camping, hiking, and bird-watching
- Other nature and outdoor activities
These activities are a part of Texas life, but they can result in injury, death, and other damages. When they do, such tragedies pose risks of lawsuits and financial consequences to property owners who failed to take needed steps to qualify for legal protection. For activities like hunting, limiting liability requires a few important documents: hunting leases, liability waivers, and Texas Agritourism Act waivers.
Hunting Leases, Liability Waivers & Texas Agritourism Act Waivers
Under Ch. 75 of the TX Civil Practice & Remedies Code, landowners seeking protecting under the law must meet certain requirements:
- The land must be agricultural land – Qualifying as agricultural land requires land to be “suitable” for agriculture. Our legal team can assist property owners in documenting their land’s agricultural suitability, or with taking additional steps if needed.
- Fee standards must be met – Limited liability applies only if landowners collect entry fees which are less than 20 times the amount they paid in property taxes for the previous year. Limitations on fees may be overcome by having liability insurance which meets mandatory minimum requirements. When creating hunting leases and reviewing liability protections, our attorneys carefully review fees, taxes, insurance coverage matters, and their impact on a landowner’s ability to qualify.
- The user was there for recreational activities – As mentioned above, limited liability is offered only if those permitted to use the land are there for recreational purposes, such as hunting or fishing, among others.
In 2015, Texas passed the Texas Agritrousim Act, which provides landowners with more protection from injury-related liability. Under the Act, landowners are not liable for injuries or damages suffered by those who use their land (such as hunters) if:
- Landowners posts required warning signs before the activity; or
- Those using the land sign written agreements containing certain language.
Landowners are not required to comply with both provisions, but doing so is advised as it may offer additional protection. In addition to posting warning signs in clearly visible areas, landowners should focus on drafting valid liability waivers which can be used repeatedly in their operation, such as when leasing out their land for hunting. These waivers must be:
- Signed prior to hunting or other activities;
- Signed by participants or, if participants are minors, their guardians;
- Separate from other agreements;
- Printed in required font with required language.
In addition to properly drafting hunting leases, liability waivers, and meeting requirements under the Texas Agritoruism Act, landowners should further protect themselves by carrying liability insurance. There are two primary reasons for this: (1) although the act provides limited liability, it does not prevent them from being sued. Liability insurance policies typically provide representation for landowners in litigation; and (2) there are many exceptions where limited liability would not apply, in which case liability insurance can satisfy any judgments resulting from those instances.
Guidance Through the Process: Call (713) 909-7323.
Our legal team at Hendershot Cowart, P.C. helps Texas landowners understand their rights and responsibilities when it comes to leasing land for hunting and other recreational purposes, drafting the appropriate legal documents and waivers, and taking the necessary steps to manage risks and ensure all activities on their properly are adequately covered. Though the laws are complex, they can be navigated with the assistance of attorneys who know the industry, the laws, and how to guide landowners step-by-step through the process.
Hendershot Cowart, P.C. is a law firm comprised of nationally recognized and award-winning Trial lawyers who represent clients throughout Texas and beyond. With more than 130 years of collective experience, our attorneys have become known for their expansive knowledge in even the most complex and challenging matters. Discuss your case and how our firm can help by calling (713) 909-7323 or contacting us online.