Pennsylvania Personal Injury Verdict Shuts Down Local Hunters

A recent Pennsylvania personal injury verdict has resonated across the state, drawing a dramatic response from landowners, hunters, associations, and now the state legislature itself.

In September of 2006, a Pennsylvania jury found a Lehigh County landowner partially responsible for an injury caused by a hunter on his land. The landowner, like many Pennsylvania landowners in the days before this verdict, had opened his land to hunters. One of those hunters fired a stray bullet that struck a young, pregnant woman who was sitting in a car in her own driveway half a mile away.

The victim, Casey Burns, filed a personal injury lawsuit against the shooter, but also named the landowner in her lawsuit, and a Pennsylvania jury found that the landowner was 10% liable. Pennsylvania has a statute, the Recreational Use of Land and Water Act, that protects landowners from liability for accidents arises out of various recreational uses. However, it was unclear whether or not that law extended to injuries occurring beyond the property boundaries.

As yet, there's no monetary value attached to the Pennsylvania verdict; the trial was bifurcated and damages have not yet been determined. Still, it was enough to create panic among some Pennsylvania landowners, and many farms that have been open for hunting in past years have cut back on the number of hunters they're allowing, or even posted their property to prevent hunting altogether.

The Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs went to work with legislators to address the landowner liability issue, and the Lehigh County Farm Bureau endorsed a resolution calling for landowner liability protection to be added to the state's Game Code.

The Pennsylvania House passed a bill that would have extended and clarified landowner protections, but Senate leaders said they don't have time to consider the bill before adjourning for the year. The bill will be reintroduced next year.

Pennsylvania farmers often open their land to hunters as a means of reducing the deer population. Rep. Paul Semmel (R-Berks), who introduced the bill, says he fears that without landowner protections against personal injury liability, it will be too risky for private landowners to open their farms to the public for hunting, making hunting possible only for those wealthy enough to own large parcels of land.

The bill, if passed, will not limit hunter liability.

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