The State of Independence has liberated landowners in a case that may set a national precedent. Earlier this summer, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell signed a law granting new protections to landowners who open their property to sportsmen and others for recreational purposes.
BY JOSEPH GUINTO
PUBLISHED AUGUST 2007
Like most states, Pennsylvania has a decades-old statute that limits the liability of landowners who offer recreational access to their lands at no charge. States began adopting those laws in part to encourage private landowners to make their properties accessible to the public.
But a high-profile 2004 incident in Pennsylvania may have exposed a loophole in most states’ liability protections-a loophole that Pennsylvania lawmakers quickly closed.
Their action was spurred by a jury decision in September 2006 holding Daniel Haas, the owner of a 140-acre orchard in Lehigh County, 10 percent liable for injuries sustained by Casey Burns, a woman who lived nearby. Burns was in her car, in her driveway, when an errant bullet fired by a deer hunter on Haas’ property hit her in the head. Burns was pregnant at the time. She recovered, and the baby was not hurt, but the shooting caused difficulties prior to and during delivery. The case was settled in February of this year, before the jury deliberated on damages.
The jury’s decision prompted dozens of landowners to close their properties to the public. Lawmakers responded by offering an amendment to the state’s Recreational Use of Land and Water Act. It says landowners who open their properties free of charge will not “assume responsibility for or incur liability for any injury to persons or property, wherever such persons or property are located, caused while hunting.”
For now, that wording is unique among state landowner liability laws. But court-watchers say that may not be the case for long.