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Hunting and Fishing Leases: How Georgia Law Protects Landowners

Written by: Joel McKie, Esq. 

Over the years, the Georgia General Assembly has enacted multiple laws to protect landowners from claims by parties who have been injured while on their property for recreational purposes. These acts have largely been enacted to incentivize property owners to allow others to use their property for hunting, fishing, and agritourism purposes.

The most commonly known statute is Georgia’s Recreational Property Act (“RPA”). Enacting in 1965, this statute generally provides that an owner of land owes no duty of care to keep his or her premises safe for entry or use by others for recreational purposes (as that term is defined in the act) or to give any warning of a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity on the premises to persons entering for recreational purposes. O.C.G.A. § 51-3-22. However, if the owner charges the entrant a fee (which is often the case in the lease context) or there is evidence of a willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity, the RPA is generally inapplicable. However, there is an exception to the fee exception codified in O.C.G.A. § 27-3-1(e). Specifically, that provision extends the civil immunity granted in the RPA to “any owner of land, lessee of land, or lessee of the game or fishing rights to land who gives permission to another person to hunt, fish, or take wildlife upon the land with or without charge.” (emphasis added). Therefore, carefully crafted hunting and fishing leases can allow for the extension of RPA civil immunity to premise liability claims arising out of hunting and fishing even where there is a charge.

One additional statute fills some of the gaps left by O.C.G.A. § 27-3-1(e) and O.C.G.A. § 51-3-22 in cases where fees are charged for use of the recreational property. O.C.G.A. § 51-3-31(b), which was passed in 2009, provides that a landowner who charges admission for a person who is 18 years of age or older to hunt or fish on the owner’s property is immune from civil liability for any injuries caused by the inherent risk associated with hunting or fishing activity, provided that: (1) the landowner’s conduct does not constitute gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct; (2) the landowner has posted at the main point of entry a sign with a warning notice stating certain statutorily prescribed language; and (3) the person who has paid admission to the landowner to enter such landowner’s property to hunt or fish has signed a waiver of liability form stating that the person entering the landowner’s property has waived all civil liability against the landowner for any injuries caused by the inherent risk associated with the hunting or fishing activity.

Therefore, for a landowner/lessor to avail itself of the protections created by O.C.G.A. § 51-3-31(b), the lessor should require the lessee to have all hunters sign a waiver of liability/release substantially similar to the following language:

“Warning

Under Georgia law, there is no liability for an injury or death of a hunting or fishing participant at least 18 years of age conducted at this location if such injury or death results from the inherent risks of such hunting or fishing activity. Inherent risks of hunting or fishing activities include, but shall not be limited to, the potential of you to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to your injury or death and the potential of another participant to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to your injury or death. You are assuming the risk of participating in this hunting or fishing activity.”

In sum, a landowner wishing to allow someone to hunt or fish can take significant steps to protect themselves against civil liability. While much of these steps are inherent in the law now, a strong lease drafted by counsel that requires every hunter or fisherman entering the recreational property to sign a release of liability and acknowledgment of the rights created by the above-described statutes goes a long way toward protecting a landowner from civil liability in Georgia.

All information provided in this article is for informational purposes only, is not intended to be relied upon without consultation with counsel, and does not constitute legal advice.