It was a perfect November morning – the air crisp and full of promise. As John and his guest Eddie arrived at the entrance of the Big Swamp Hunt Club, Eddie realized he had forgotten his new climbing deer stand. “No problem,” John replied, “we’ve got an extra one at the clubhouse.”
After a quick stop, they soon arrived at a beautiful red oak ridge alive with fresh deer sign. “Eddie, just follow this trail down the hill until you find a good tree to climb,” said John. “I’ll come by around 10 a.m. to get you.” Eddie agreed and headed off into the darkness.
Eddie unpacked the treestand and began trying to figure out how it worked. Eddie had only used his own climbing stand on two occasions and that was during daylight. To make matters worse, Eddie realized that John had not provided him with a safety belt. Eventually, Eddie thought he had figured out how the stand worked and began his ascent.
All was going well until he encountered a limb about 15 feet up. As he maneuvered the stand around the short limb, one of the locking pins on the treestand came loose and sent Eddie crashing to the ground below breaking his back, hip, right leg and two ribs. At 10 a.m., John arrived to find his guest unconscious and near death. Fortunately, Eddie survived. However, his injuries required numerous surgeries, resulting in over $200,000 in medical expenses.
What will happen if Eddie’s medical expenses are not covered by his own insurance? Will John or the hunt club have to pay for Eddie’s medical expenses? Will Eddie sue his friend and the hunt club for not providing instruction on the safe use of the treestand or for not providing him with a safety belt? What would have happened if Eddie had died?
Unfortunately, accidents like this and questions like these arise every year in this country. Fortunately, Big Swamp Hunt club was covered by a general liability insurance policy that would provide coverage for the club if they were found legally responsible for this accident.
While formalized hunting clubs and leases have been common throughout the southern United States for decades, this trend is slowly moving into less traditional areas such as the Midwest and Northeast. This trend, coupled with the fact that our society is becoming more litigious (sue happy), means that both landowners and hunters across the nation are being forced to seriously consider their legal liability while hunting.
These concerns are valid. Both landowners and hunters assume some degree of legal risk while on a property. Common law principles provide the legal parameters regarding the rights and duties of landowners. Under common law, landowners have a duty to guests, those paying to hunt (leaseholders or clients) and, to a lesser degree, trespassers. Landowners have the duty to inspect their property, remove hidden dangers, keep the property in a reasonably safe condition, and take precautions to protect users from foreseeable danger.
Many states have recreational use statutes that attempt to limit the landowner’s liability exposure. However, most do not (1) limit landowner liability exposure for an intentional, willful, or malicious act or failure to guard against a dangerous condition, structure, or activity or (2) protect the landowner who charges a fee for recreational use of land. The amount of an “allowable” fee varies by state.
Legal representatives recommended the following ways to reduce landowner liability:
• Understand the legal responsibility to recreational users and meet those responsibilities.
• Practice risk reduction management by identifying and eliminating known hazards.
• Obtain liability insurance.
Over the past 10 years, liability insurance has become a standard hunting lease requirement. In many cases, private and corporate landowners actually require liability insurance before the hunting lease is finalized.
Although frequently required, this insurance is often misunderstood. Simply stated, liability insurance is designed to provide coverage for hunting clubs and their members for acts which they could be held legally responsible. Thus, the insurance is designed to lessen the risk associated with occurrences caused by a negligent act of the hunting club (or members and guests). Elements of public liability or general liability insurance should include:
1. Member-to-member liability coverage for cross-member liability claims.
2. Guest liability coverage to provide coverage to the club for acts of their guests.
3. Landowners as additional insureds to provide landowners with coverage for acts of the hunting club.
4. No exclusionary endorsements should be present for activities specific to hunting operations such as tree stands, ATVs, and firearms.
Clearly, all hunters and landowners should be aware of the risks they take by not having adequate liability insurance. It’s simply not worth risking all of your personal assets or your family’s security due to unfortunate accidents or acts of your hunting club members/guests.
Since most Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) members either own or lease land for hunting, the QDMA recognized the need for our members to be covered by appropriate liability insurance. As a result, the QDMA partnered with the most experienced liability insurance teams in the nation, Outdoor Underwriters, Inc. The QDMA’s long-time partner, Mossy Oak, also joined this partnership to increase awareness and participation in the program. Collectively, this new partnership entitles QDMA members to the most comprehensive hunt club liability insurance policy at the most competitive price.
Hunting Club Safety Checklist
q Be absolutely sure of your target
q Know what’s behind your target
q Use a hunter stand check-in system
q Wear a tree stand safety harness
q Wear blaze orange clothing
q Mark gates for all-direction visibility
q Avoid alcoholic beverages
Where is hunting liability risk the greatest? According to recent statistics from actual insurance claims, hunting club accidents that cause death or injury occur at the following levels of prevalence.
15% Tree Stands
Sidebar about QDMA’s policy:
Here’s what the QDMA policy includes:
• $1 Million Per Occurrence General Liability Coverage
• $2 Million General Aggregate
• No Deductible
• $100,000 Fire Legal Liability
• Member-to-Member Coverage
• Guest Liability Coverage
• Liability Coverage for firearms, treestands, ATVs, mobile equipment, limited watercraft, hunting dogs, and more.
This comprehensive policy provides liability protection for occurrences arising from operations of the hunt club, its members, guests, agents, or employees.
Advantages of the QDMA policy:
1. The QDMA policy is backed by the most experienced team of hunt club liability insurance providers in the nation, Outdoor Underwriters, Inc. This South Carolina based company has collectively created a team with over 40 years of experience in hunting club liability issues. If a claim ever arises, you would work directly with this company, not a third party as with many other programs.
2. The QDMA policy includes a membership in the QDMA for the primary policyholder. Most other insurance programs require membership fees in addition to policy fees. Some programs even require that all members of the hunting club must join a given organization to receive coverage. These membership fees can quickly add up and make insurance unaffordable. As an added benefit, the QDMA policy also includes a free subscription to Mossy Oak’s Hunting the Country Magazine.
3. The QDMA policy includes coverage for many of the higher-risk activities involving treestands, ATVs, watercraft, etc. Many other policies have hidden exclusions that greatly limit the value of the coverage. In other words, read the fine print closely before purchasing any policy.
4. The QDMA’s large and rapidly growing membership base enables us to offer the most competitive prices available for this level of coverage. Some other policies look less expensive, but make sure you add up all the hidden fees and look closely at what’s covered and what’s not before making your final decision.
5. Acquiring your coverage through the QDMA helps support your Association by increasing membership and generating an additional source of income.
An application form and prices are provided on the following page if you are interested in taking advantage of QDMA’s Hunt Club Liability Insurance Program. If you have any questions contact the QDMA National Office at 800-209-3337.
About the Author:
Ed Wilson received a B.S. and M.S. in Forestry from West Virginia University and a Ph.D. from Virginia Tech University. With his renowned experience in providing comprehensive insurance coverage to hunt clubs for almost 20 years, Ed has co-created Outdoor Underwriters, Inc.* Ed is also a long-standing QDMA member and supporter of Quality Deer Management.
*Outdoor Underwriters, Inc is a …. of Allstar