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Tort Reform Helps Oklahoma Landowners

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Posted Aug. 31, 2004

On May 28, Governor Brad Henry signed into law the "Oklahoma Limitation of Liability for Farming and Ranching Land Act." The intent of this legislation is to encourage landowners to make their farming and ranching land available for outdoor recreational purposes. The Act limits the participating landowners' liability to persons entering on or using the land for such recreational purposes.

Recreational purposes include hunting, fishing, swimming, boating, camping, picnicking, hiking, pleasure driving, jogging, cycling, other sporting events and activities, nature study, water skiing, jet skiing, winter sports and viewing or enjoying historical, archaeological, scenic or scientific sites.

The Act protects landowners who charge use fees of $10 per acre or less to visitors using such land. If farmers and ranchers charge use fees greater than the $10 per acre, the Act requires the landowner to get a signed release of liability (or a waiver) from the visitors. Pursuant to the Act, visitors will be legally bound by the terms of a release that prevents any recovery from the landowner for personal injury or property damages resulting from the visitors' recreational use. No signed release is needed if the use fees are $10 per acre or less.

Under the Act, farming and ranching landowners are not required to extend any assurances that his or her premises are safe for any recreational purpose; incur any duty of care toward a visitor who enters or uses the land; or assume responsibility or incur liability for any injury to person or property caused by an act or omission of such visitor. The Act protects against simple negligence by the landowner, but there exist exceptions for willful acts intended to injure visitors, gross negligence by the landowner or obligations that arise outside the Act (for example, agreements made between the landowner and visitor that create other duties of care).

This legislation provides a tremendous opportunity for Oklahoma farming and ranching landowners interested in generating additional revenue from their land resource. Moreover, the Act should provide farmers and ranchers with some "peace of mind" as they pursue various agritourism enterprises. The Act goes into effect on Nov. 1, 2004.

When considering taking advantage of the Act, landowners are encouraged to consult with their attorney to explore all statutory requirements and limitations.

Steve Rhines, the Noble Research Institute's director of legal affairs, contributed to this article.

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