Treestand falls. Fires. Shooting mishaps. ATV accidents. You hope these things never happen on your land or hunting lease, but if they do, are you covered by land insurance?
When you own land, lease land or are a member of a hunting club, you take on a degree of legal risk. Landowners have a duty to guests and lease holders. Hunters need liability insurance to protect themselves, other members of their hunting group and guests against acts for which they could be held legally responsible. If you don’t have liability insurance, you risk losing all of your personal assets and your family’s security.
Ed Wilson, vice president of Outdoor Underwriters, a leader in the outdoor insurance marketplace, says no one wants to believe something bad will happen on their lease or land, but accidents do happen and it’s simply not worth risking it all by having no liability insurance.
Although important, liability insurance is often misunderstood. It is designed to provide coverage for landowners and hunting clubs for acts which they could be held legally responsible.
“This type of land or hunting lease insurance coverage is not for accidents that necessarily occur to you, but is designed to protect you from being held responsible for accidents that injure someone else,” Wilson said.
Society’s litigious nature means that a landowner or hunting club takes on some risk anytime someone is on the property. Under common law, a landowner has a duty to invitees, licensees, and to a lesser degree, trespassers on their property. A landowner is expected to inspect his property, remove hidden dangers, keep the property in a reasonably safe condition, and take precautions to protect a user from foreseeable danger. Still, if someone gets hurt on the property, the landowner can be held responsible.
There are so many possibilities for injury on private and hunting properties, which makes liability insurance so important.
“We all know about the dangers of falling from a treestand while hunting, but a lot of people are injured when moving and setting stands up,” Wilson said. “For example, you’re helping a guy move a stand and it comes out of the tree and falls on his head. That’s a bad accident and there is some cross-member liability that can go into that accident. Accidents like these are rare, and there’s a good chance you’ll never have a liability occurrence, but when an accident does happen, it’s generally big and you need to be protected.”
Wilson goes on to explain that even minor accidents can end up in substantial lawsuits.
“Hunters don’t think anything about climbing a 20-foot ladder, but someone can get severely hurt just climbing up three feet. After all, people fall off step ladders in their houses and end up paraplegics. You don’t have to fall far. We recently had a case where the steps gave out on a stand. The climber fell and was injured. A liability allegation has been made against the club. The injured party feels the club should have warned him about the steps.
Those you hire to help maintain the property can also get hurt and sue. For example, if someone is operating your farm equipment on your property and gets injured on that equipment, you are liable.
“Or, if a bush hog you’re operating pulls a tree down on someone, you have the liability for operating that tractor,” Wilson said. “There are about a hundred different scenarios that can come into a liability discussion.”
So, what should a landowner or hunting club members look for when selecting liability land insurance?
Wilson says it’s difficult to look at multiple plans and discern the difference because companies use the similar forms to construct a liability policy. The forms are produced by insured services offices and approved by the 50 states insurance commissioners.
“What you have to remember is that liability is shaped by their exclusions,” he 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 treestands, ATVs or member-to-member coverage. Be sure that certain things incidental to the hunting club don’t have additional exclusions applied.”
There are other considerations to keep in mind as well. For example, pollution is not covered under a general liability policy. So, if you have old oil wells or diesel tanks, you’ll need to understand a general policy won’t cover issues involving those things.
“When it comes to hunting lease 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. If I put you in my treestand 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.”
Before purchasing liability insurance, Wilson recommended checking to see what your homeowner’s insurance covers.
“You can’t buy a broader policy than your home umbrella policy for all of your personal liability. Your personal umbrella is about the cheapest, best coverage you can buy in the whole insurance world. Sometimes they won’t extend that coverage to your land for whatever reason, for example, if you have it set up in a corporation, or if you have it in partnership with another family member or hunting buddy.”
So how much does liability insurance cost?
Prices vary, of course. There are several different forms of land insurance, from large multi-million dollar landowner policies that get a per-acre rate that is built into the hunting lease to small individual club policies.
“When a small club comes to me to buy a policy, I refer them to the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA), which has a policy that starts at around $200 and that includes membership into the association.”
Wilson said he put association programs together and worked with the QDMA to help individual hunting clubs get the same kind of coverage that larger investor landowners receive but with similar prices.
When selecting your land insurance policy, he recommends using a group that’s experienced in recreation and timberland liability insurance. You want someone defending you with strong resources, such as a claim adjuster that knows how to go out in the woods and adjust a claim and attorneys who are familiar with landowner laws.
When it’s all said and done, Wilson says to remember when you purchase liability insurance, you’re buying peace of mind in knowing that someone will step in and defend you if the unthinkable happens. Safeguard yourself, fellow club members and your most valuable assets with liability land insurance.