New Hampshire Lawmakers to Discuss Landowner Liability

By NORMA LOVE | August 22, 2011

Lawmakers worried a lawsuit by a hunter will prompt landowners to close their lands to hunting and other recreational activities will meet Tuesday to discuss how to tighten New Hampshire’s law protecting landowners from liability.

State Rep. Gene Chandler said Friday he plans to introduce legislation but has not yet drafted a bill.

Fish and Game Executive Director Glenn Normandeau said Thursday the Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to work with the Legislature to strengthen landowners’ protections.

Chandler said several lawmakers will meet with Fish and Game Commission members Tuesday to discuss what needs to be done to alleviate landowners’ fear of lawsuits if they keep their land open for recreation. Another meeting will be scheduled toward the end of August for the public to comment, said state Sen. Andy Sanborn, who is working with Chandler.

They are concerned about a lawsuit by William Jasmin, a 51-year-old Manchester hunter who fell about 20 feet when a tree stand collapsed. Jasmin was severely injured; his lawsuit was first reported by the Concord Monitor.

Jasmin’s lawyer, B.J. Branch, said Friday that Jasmin was scouting land in Epsom in November 2009 when the accident happened. Jasmin claims Charles Corliss, the landowner, gave him permission to hunt on the property as long as he and his friends shot as many coyotes as possible. Jasmin also claims Corliss told him he could use the faulty tree stand.

Corliss denies giving Jasmin permission to be on the property, according to statements to the Monitor by Corliss’ lawyer, Brandon Giuda. Neither Giuda nor Corliss returned messages seeking comment Friday.

Branch said the lawsuit is in its early stages and the trial won’t begin for perhaps a year.

Chandler and other lawmakers fear it will prompt landowners to post signs banning hunting and other recreational activities out of fear the state’s liability law will not protect them from being sued. The law limits landowners’ liability as a way to encourage them to keep their land open. The law does not require them to keep the land safe for entry or use or to give warnings of hazardous conditions or structures.

“Everything people love to do outdoors is truly at risk, not just hunting,” Sanborn said.

Branch argues the agreement Corliss made with Jasmin to kill coyotes invalidates the liability protections because Jasmin was required to perform a function as compensation for the right to hunt. He said the tree stand was not protected because it is not a permanent structure.

“A service was being rendered in exchange for permission,” said Branch.

Branch said that makes the case different from when a hunter is injured while hunting on private land where the landowner has not offered him compensation or suggested using a tree stand that was not safe.

Chandler and Sanborn want to look at what constitutes compensation and when it triggers making the landowner liable.

“Giving someone a blueberry pie shouldn’t make you liable,” Chandler said.

Chandler, R-Bartlett, also wants lawmakers to consider adopting a Maine law where the party filing the lawsuit has to pay the other person’s legal fees if he loses the case. That could cut down on frivolous lawsuits.

Meanwhile, Chandler hopes landowners will see that lawmakers are working to shore up the laws protecting them and hold off closing their land to recreation.

Sanborn, R-Henniker, said Friday he hopes to have a bill passed before the fall hunting season begins and would like the Senate to send one to the House on Sept. 7. The House then might consider passing it when it meets Sept. 14.

Bear hunting season begins Sept. 1, followed on Sept. 15 by bow hunting for deer and turkey.

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