September will bring the opening of Texas bird hunting season and (hopefully) the onset of cooler weather. This means that many Texans may soon be emerging from air-conditioned vehicles and buildings to enjoy outdoor activities. Texas land owners who allow others to use their land for trail riding, hunting, or other recreational uses should be aware of when Texas law says they may be held liable for injuries arising from the use of their property.
The applicable legal standard is found in the Texas Recreational Use Statute (RUS) (Chapter 75 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code). A link to the full language of the statute can be found here.
The RUS was originally enacted in 1965 to limit the liability of Texas land owners who allow others to use their land for hunting, fishing or camping. The RUS has been amended many times over the years to expand the immunity and to broaden the scope of the law. The current law is summarized below:
- Limits liability of land owners, lessees, and occupants of agricultural land and other real property. All references to “land owners” below includes also lessees and other occupants;
- Provides that if land owners give permission to others to use the land for recreational purposes, the land owner is not liable to the invitee unless the land owner was grossly negligent, acted with malicious intent, or acted in bad faith;
- Provides that a land owner is not liable for any injury to a trespasser except for willful or wanton acts or gross negligence by the land owner;
- Covers any activity associated with enjoying nature or the outdoors;
- Covers a land owner who meets one of the following tests: (1) does not charge for entry to the premises; (2) charges for entry to the premises, but the total charges collected in the previous calendar year were not more than 20 times the total amount of ad valorem taxes imposed on the premises; or (3) has premises liability insurance coverage in effect that meets the statutory requirements($1 million for each occurrence of bodily injury or death and $100,000 for each occurrence of property damage or destruction);
- The following damages caps apply to claims against owners of agricultural land if they are covered by premises liability insurance that meets the statutory requirements:1) $500,000 in damages per person; 2) $1 million for each occurrence of bodily injury or death; and 3) $100,000 for each occurrence of damage to or destruction of property.
Tips to avoid liability: Post “No Trespassing” signs in conspicuous areas around your property. Do not charge invitees for using the land. Get premises liability insurance that meets the statute’s guidelines if you believe you will be allowing visitors to use your land for recreational purposes. Lastly, it never hurts to have invitees sign a liability release.
All 50 states have some form of Recreational Use Statute, and the law varies greatly from state to state. To locate recreational use statutes in other states, see this site. For more information on the Texas RUS, see this article from the Texas A&M Real Estate Center.
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