Our friends at the Insurance International Risk Management Institute (IRMI) have brought up a very interesting subject regarding the use of vacant land as respects your coverage. Because we insure so many people all over the country, we thought this might be of interest to many of you. This specific view is regarding hunting accidents, but it could apply to any use of vacant land. Where you see the words hunting exposure, you might want to think of off-road vehicles, bicycles, kayaking, or hiking groups. This really applies to more people that we might think!
Problems arise by the very nature of the word “vacant”. Typically, most homeowners insurance policies cover you for your ownership of truly vacant land: nothing on it but nature. But, land being used for hunting, in particular if someone pays you for access, really changes the exposures you face. The following is an abridged version of the article, used with permission:
“Hunting accidents on vacant land can lead to a number of legal liability concerns. You have a liability exposure to an outside party getting hurt on your property due to a hunting incident.
If you do not want any hunting activity on your land, make your presence known on this property. For example, hunters will often scout potential land prior to hunting season, and they will often leave survey tape and markers so they can remember where they were scouting. If you remove their signs, they will notice that you are paying attention and do not wish to have them on your land. Also, you should post numerous "No trespassing" signs on your property; the signs need to be posted prominently at all road entrances and along any public roads that your property borders.
Some land owners may lease their land for hunting. The main benefit with this approach (besides your revenue from the arrangement) is that you can control who hunts and by what rules they must abide. But this opens you up for increased liability because the hunters on your land are now invitees, rather than trespassers. The duty of care that you owe an invitee is typically greater than that owed to a trespasser.
HOWEVER, this approach can also negate coverage under your homeowner's policy and umbrella policy since you are earning money on this land, creating a business exposure which is generally excluded under homeowners policies. Thus, if you decide to lease your land to a private party, you should
• verify that the hunter signs a lease agreement that includes a hold harmless clause;
• obtain a copy of his or her homeowners policy and get listed as an additional insured under that policy [but, you’ll likely not get that from an insurer, so the next option is best];
• and, in addition, you will need to purchase a general liability policy to cover your business exposure since many homeowners, farm owners, and personal umbrella policies exclude this exposure.
A different approach may be to sign a lease agreement with a hunting club and to verify that the club has a hunt lease insurance program holding you harmless. In addition, you should obtain a copy of the policy and get listed as an additional insured under that policy [that, you can get]. The hunting club and the hunters should have a minimum of $1 million in liability limits.”
You might also want to put the land in a LLC; it won’t save the land if you are sued and you do not have any coverage, but at least it may protect your personal assets.
Let us know about these exposures so that we can address them; you may have to pay some money for this insurance, but it will be less than the cost of the lawsuit.
Huggins Dreckman Insurance, Insuring Your Success!