This new feature by Maine Woodland Owners member Michael Maine, a licensed forester and attorney with Thomas P. Peters II & Associates, covers legal issues of particular interest to forest landowners. His presentation on discontinued and abandoned roads at the 2012 annual meeting helped spark the current legislative study.
Q: Can I be sued when hunters or snowmobilers get hurt on my property?
A: People can sue for almost anything. But Maine’s landowner liability law will protect
landowners in many situations. Maine law, Title 14, Part 1, Chapter 7, Section 159-A is entitled “Limited liability for recreational or harvesting activities.” Chapter 7 is for “Defenses Generally,” so this law provides landowners with a defense should a hunter accidentally shoot himself or a snowmobiler crash into a tree on your land and wants you to pay for his mistake. The “premises” covered are quite broad, including land, roads, buildings, waters, railroad lands, and utility corridors. Activities covered are also very broad and include, but are not limited to: hunting, fishing, trapping, camping, environmental education and research, hiking, caving, sight-seeing, snowmobiling, ATVing, skiing, hang-gliding, noncommercial aviation, dog sledding, horse activities, boating, sailing, canoeing, rafting, biking, picnicking, swimming, or harvesting forest, field, or marine products. Quite a list!
It should be noted, however, that “recreational or harvesting activities” does not include commercial agricultural or timber harvesting. So be sure to get the proof of independent contractor status or workers’ compensation insurance from a logger working on your land.
For those few among us who enjoy legalese – and for language that reminds me of law school – the key is that the owner has a limited duty under these situations. The landowner has no duty of care to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others or to give warning of any hazardous condition, use, structure, or activity. This applies whether or not permission was granted to use the property.
Does this mean “booby-traps” can be set to catch or kill unwanted trespassers? No. Liability is not limited for willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity. Liability is also not limited in cases where the user pays for use of the property.
Finally, how about those folks who will sue for anything and everything? This law helps to prevent that as well. The court shall award any direct legal costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees, should the owner prevail. Even suit-happy people would think twice before throwing away good money – unless they enjoy paying lawyers.
So far, to the best of my knowledge, this law has not failed to protect a landowner when used in appropriate situations. And that’s a good thing too, lest we have still more land posted in Maine. Please keep in mind that all real-world situations are different and you shouldn’t rely on this brief article as legal advice. If you have a situation where landowner liability law may apply, consult with an attorney.
Mike Maines can be contacted at by calling 784-1446 or e-mailing: firstname.lastname@example.org. He welcomes future topics for Maine Woods Law.