The last weekend of 2011 turned into tragedy for a central Indiana family. A teenager about to enjoy recreational activity with his family was mistaken for a coyote and shot by the landowner. That's the facts known so far, as reported in the Daily Journal, a Johnson County daily newspaper, on January 3.
Exactly what happened in that tragic case remains for investigators to figure out. On the surface, it appeared to be a case of permission granted to be on the property, but miscommunication. Further updates will clarify if that is in fact what happened.
Despite the tragedy, it's a reminder for landowners and farmers representing landowners to exercise responsibility and caution in regards to allowing others to use their property, and to then practice responsibility when people are present.
John J. Schwarz II, Stroh, Ind., is an ag attorney who writes occasionally in Indiana Prairie Farmer magazine. In the January 2012 issue, he introduced the subject of recreational land use. He noted that when he's written on the subject before and pointed out the potential liability of landowners, he's been chastised by those wanting to sue properties for hunting and other activities because after reading his comments, the owners no longer allowed the activity.
The attorney assures readers that's not his point. Instead, he points out how Indiana law addresses these issues. Many of the fine points of the law depend upon whether it's a situation where the landowner is being paid for the activity or not.
Schwarz will address the issue again in Part II of the series in the February issue. A law passed by the legislature in 2011 and implemented last year limits liability to agritourism situations, where landowners are operating a business that falls under the guidelines of agri-tourism.
However, the landowner is not relieved of total liability. The law includes many qualifications, including posting of a sign of a certain size, with certain statements. The law even specifies where the sign is to be located, and the size of the letters. There is also to be a written agreement signed by the person engaging in the agritourism activity.
The new addition to the law passed last year also does not relieve the landowner of gross negligence. It was an important law passed in an effort to encourage more people to engage in agritourism activities, but it still does not provide total protection from certain events that might occur.