Typical hunting season Saturday morning. A hunter comes to your house kindly asking if he and his two friends can hunt on your property today? You tell them, “sure” and before you know it they are already heading out to hunt. Have you opened yourself up to a potential lawsuit if one, two or all three of those hunters get hurt, or worse yet, is killed on your farm property?
As a general rule, if you did not charge a fee for the hunters to hunt on your property you should have no liability. “No-fee. No-liability.” The reason for this is Missouri’s Recreational Use Act (“RUA”), enacted in 1983.
Charging a person a fee to enter your land looses you the RUA protections. However, a fee for something else should not loose you those protections. One court has ruled a fee charged to stay overnight in a building on the property was not a fee to enter the land and, therefore, the landowner still was protected by the RUA.
The RUA defines a “charge” (fee) which will negate its legal protections, as an admission price or fee asked by a landowner or an invitation or permission without price or fee to use land for recreational purposes when such invitation or permission is given for the purpose of sales promotion, advertising or public goodwill in fostering business purposes.
Reflecting the importance of the RUA is a 2008 decision by the Missouri Supreme Court in a case called State ex rel. Young v. Wood where the Court ordered a trial judge to dismiss a lawsuit against a farmer. The farmer had given permission to a Mr. Hartnagel to hunt for wild turkeys on his farm. Later the farmer gave permission to a Mr. Shaw to do the same. The farmer never told Shaw there was another hunter on his property. While hunting, Hartnagel thought he heard a wild turkey and fired his gun in that direction. Instead of a turkey, Hartnagel shot and killed Shaw. Mr. Shaw’s survivors sued the farmer claiming he should have warned Shaw there was another hunter on the farm.
The Missouri Supreme Court ruled by the RUA a landowner had no duty of care to any person who entered on the land without charging a fee to keep his or her land safe for recreational use or to give any general or specific warning with respect to any natural or artificial condition, structure, or personal property on the land.
“Recreational use” includes “hunting, fishing, camping, picnicking, biking, nature study, winter sports, viewing or enjoying archaeological or scenic sites, or other similar activities undertaken for recreation, exercise, education, relaxation or pleasure on land owned by another.”
Missouri farmers should be wary of charging a fee, directly or indirectly, to allow a person to come on their land for recreational purposes; such a fee is likely to result in loss of the legal protections given to farmers by Missouri’s Recreational Use Act. Missouri farmers should also check with their insurance agent or company about whether they should have insurance coverage and, if so, for what. Also, Missouri farmers should not hesitate to consult with their attorneys on Missouri’s landowner liability laws and to ask they be told of any changes or modifications in the law that might adversely impact them. Finally, despite the existence of the RUA, if any injury or death happens to any person who is on a Missouri farm for recreational purposes the farm owner(s) should promptly let their insurance agent, company and attorney know of the event.
Gregory M. Dennis is Legal Counsel for the Missouri and Kansas veterinary medical associations. He actively practices law in both Missouri and Kansas with the law firm of Kent T. Perry & Co., L.C., Overland Park, Kan.


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