It’s safe to say that just about every true hunter wants to have his own hunting and recreational chunk of property. It is a retreat, a haven that one can escape to, manage for whatever he enjoys hunting for, play with his ATV, camp, cut some trees, plant some food plots, set up blinds and enjoy friends, family and hunting buddies. Of course, not all hunting land parcels are equal in size or intended use. It may be vacant land. The property may house a camp or a hunting club. It may be a dedicated hunting lease parcel. It may be managed for timber production or other commercial interests. Or, depending on the size and geography, it may encompass a number of the above. While the size and end uses may vary, the common denominator that landowners and land users need to keep in the forefront of their minds is land liability and the need for general hunting liability insurance, hunting lease insurance, and hunting club insurance to make sure that they are not at risk if they are sued.
Ed Wilson is vice president of Outdoor Underwriters with offices in Columbia SC, Birmingham, AL and Knoxville, TN. With a BA and an MA in forestry from West Virginia University, a PhD. from Virginia Tech and 30 years of forestry experience Wilson is an administrator who knows his way around the woods and the thicket of hunting lease insurance.
Over 30 years ago, Wilson started building relationships and placing business in the Lloyd’s insurance market with a focus on creating a sustainable hunt-lease program that would serve the needs of large hunting clubs and mega-acre corporate landowners. Then his direction took a turn.
“I originally wasn’t involved in individual hunting clubs,” Wilson said. “I was working with multi-million acre landowners providing liability hunting club insurance coverage on their properties.”
“Hunting clubs started asking me to provide liability hunting lease insurance coverage on adjacent property. When I went out in the marketplace to see what was available I found that some companies wanted $1,000 to insure 50 acres. The clubs were paying $150 through the paper company to insure 1,000 acres,” Wilson said.
Obviously there was a need in the middle and smaller hunting land ownerships and leasing market for affordable quality hunting liability insurance. Wilson took the initiative and started forging partnerships between Outdoor Underwriters and associations, such as the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) to develop hunting land and hunting lease liability insurance that offered the same kind of coverage and cost efficiency that large landowners enjoyed yet available to smaller concerns.
The rest is history and today, under Wilson’s direction, Outdoor Underwriters insures over 50,000 hunting clubs spread across 50 million acres.
What You Need to Know about Hunting Land Liability Insurance.
Wilson points out that when land and hunting lease insurance is compared to other insurance instruments, it is the “same thing, only different”.
While it is important to know what “is” covered in liability insurance, it is critical to know what “isn’t” covered. In other words, what is “excluded” in the policy.“What people have to remember is that liability hunting lease insurance policies are shaped by their exclusions,” Wilson said. “It doesn’t tell you what’s covered. It tells you what’s not covered. When you look at a general liability policy, look for the exclusions that are going to be excluding something you want covered, whether it be tree stands, ATVs, chainsaw usage, fire coverage and ‘Member-to-Member” coverage. Be sure that certain things incidental to the hunting club don’t have additional exclusions applied,” Wilson cautioned.
Wilson advises landowners and hunting clubs that four elements that should be included in their liability hunting lease insurance coverage include:
Member-to-member liability coverage for cross-member liability claims.
Guest liability coverage to provide coverage to the club for acts of their guests.
Landowners should be listed as additional insured so they have coverage for the actions of the hunting clubs.
No exclusionary endorsements should be present for activities specific to timberland or hunting operations such as tree stands, ATVs, firearms, logging and lumbering, and/or fire.
Tree Stand Mishaps
Tree stand accidents are the most common for land owners, lessees and hunting clubs and have a number of different wrinkles.
For example, if a property owner, lessee or hunting club owns tree stands that aren’t responsibly and properly maintained for as structurally risk free use as possible and something happens to a hunter using one of them, it opens the door for what could be a very costly liability claim.
“It is the same legal situation and scenario as if you invited a person to your house and as they were walking up the stairs, the stairs collapsed because you didn’t fix them,” Wilson noted.
“We had a claim where a hunting club guest was walking up the steps of the blind, the steps gave out, he fell and was injured. That responsibility may fall back on the club,” Wilson said. “An argument could be made that they should have made the steps and blind safe, and basically do everything that you would expect a reasonable person to do. The club may or may not be responsible for the injury, but it is easy to make that allegation.”
“And the distance of the fall doesn’t have to be big,” Wilson noted. “People fall off step ladders at home and it all depends on how they fall.”
There are other considerations when it comes to tree stands.
Falling out of your tree stand is different than falling out of a tree stand that belongs to someone else.
“Stand ownership and liability gets confused sometimes. If you fall out of your own stand, you can’t sue yourself. A liability policy isn’t going to respond to something that you are responsible for,” Wilson said. “Now if I was hunting with you and you put me up in your stand, and I didn’t have a safety harness and you told me to just go ahead because it’s a pretty safe stand and I climb in a branch breaks or the stand wobbles and throws me off then there is going to be recourse to be able to go back against you,”
Tree stand accidents coupled with shooting occurrences emphasizes the need for hunting lease insurance, both “member-to-member” and “guest-liability” coverage.
“When it comes to hunting club insurance policies, be sure you get member-to-member coverage and guest-liability coverage,” Wilson said. “Member-to-member coverage is an endorsement that’s written to provide coverage between cross-member claims.”
“For example, if I put you in my tree stand and you get hurt, that’s a member-to-member claim, not necessarily a hunting club claim. In a shooting situation, everyone gets pulled in, but liability really rests with the shooter. If for some reason, there’s not member-to-member coverage on the policy, the policy will defend the hunting club and members, but not the individual that did the shooting. There’s likely to be no settlement because the club didn’t do anything to cause the shooting,” Wilson said.
According to Wilson, a homeowner’s policy is the best and most cost efficient personal umbrella coverage a person can have and even if it doesn’t cover everything, it adds a layer of protection. In addition, a personal umbrella is going to extend to a hunting club member for his personal liability if he shoots someone and there is a good chance your homeowners policy is going to become involved in that claim.
For the smaller hunting club looking for liability hunting lease insurance coverage, Wilson suggests that they consider the liability policy offered the Quality Deer Management Association.
“For individual clubs I generally refer them to the Quality Deer Management Association and there is an app on there that has prices and they base it on a per-acre and start at about $200 for some pretty good coverage and that includes membership into the association which is a $35.00 benefit,” Wilson said. “You get economy of scale and a policy that has been reviewed by risk managers for multi-billion dollar companies. They don’t take this stuff very lightly and are very serious people when you look at policy worries”.
Wilson believes that when it comes to hunting lease insurance it is important to work with companies and people that are well grounded in the specific industry with the appropriate credentials.
“Having somebody defending you that has strong resources behind him, having claims adjusters that know how to go out in the woods and see what went down for the landowner, whose responsibility it is, and have attorneys that are familiar with the landowner and other laws all come into play on specific claims,” Wilson said.
“You are better off with someone that has knowledge of the outdoors, not adjusters that spend half the day working on claims from shopping malls and then get a hunting club claim and they just don’t have the resources or knowledge to adequately adjust it,” Wilson added.
“It’s all about protecting your assets with, future and that results in peace of mind,” Wilson concluded.