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October 07, 2011   Email to Friend 

Landowner Protection Act Could Increase Hunting, Fishing Opportunities
Jillian Clair

More landowners may choose to lease their land for outdoor recreational purposes as a result of a new law passed by the Alabama Legislature earlier this year.

The "Landowner Protection Act," sponsored by State Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, and supported by the Alabama Farmers Federation, protects landowners who lease property for hunting or fishing. The law says landowners are not liable for damages to a lessee.

Allen said he believes the law could boost the amount of outdoor recreation land available for lease in the state, providing a boost to local economies. Alabama Farmers Federation Wildlife Division Director Steve Guy agrees.

"In the past, many landowners have been reluctant to lease their property for hunting and fishing because of the high risk of frivolous lawsuits," said Guy. "This legislation will help protect landowners from such lawsuits."

Allen said he was motivated to sponsor the bill after he learned about a Tuscaloosa constituent who was sued after a lessee injured himself on the landowner's property.

"Alabama has some of the best hunting and fishing land in the country, and we need to give landowners the opportunity to lease their land without fear of an accident on their land that is out of their control landing them in court," Allen said.

While the Landowner Protection Act lessens the likelihood of a lawsuit against landowners, it also protects lessees from negligence or malicious intentions of a landowner.

Under the law, landowners are still responsible for informing lessees of hidden dangerous conditions on the land, and it does not protect landowners who intentionally or willfully cause injury to a lessee who is rightfully using the land.

Guy said the Landowner Protection Act is a good first step toward protecting landowners, but more work still needs to be done.

Landowners are still liable for damages to trespassers on their land, and other forms of agritourism have not specifically been addressed.

"We've still got a way to go to protect the private property rights of our forest landowners and farmers," Guy said. "Hopefully during this next session, we can address the unwarranted lawsuits brought by people who trespass on private property as well as those who are invited in certain situations, such as a pick-your-own fruit and vegetable farm."

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