Injured New Hampshire Hunter Drops Lawsuit

By HOLLY RAMER | November 22, 2011

A hunter who was seriously hurt when a tree stand he was using collapsed has dropped his lawsuit against the landowner because someone else owned the stand.

William Jasmin, 52, of Manchester, was left partially paralyzed after falling while scouting hunting locations in Epsom in November 2009. He sued Charles Corliss, believing Corliss owned the property and tree stand. But Jasmin later realized that a friend who told him Corliss had given them permission to use the tree stand had actually spoken to another person who owned the tree stand but not the land.

The case sparked fears that landowners would close their property to hunting and other recreational activities and prompted lawmakers to propose changing state law. But lawyer B.J. Branch, who filed paperwork Monday to drop the suit, told The Associated Press the case wasn’t about land access; it was about holding the owner of a faulty product accountable.

“This case is about a defective tree stand, not the land on which it was located,” he said. Once he realized that Corliss did not own the tree stand, he dropped the case, he said.

“I don’t want to sue some guy who’s not the right person,” he said.

Meanwhile, lawmakers plan to go ahead with legislation aimed at ensuring as much private land as possible remains open to hunters, hikers, and sporting vehicles. State law already limits landowners’ liability as a way to encourage them to keep their land accessible, and does not require them to keep the land safe for use or to give warnings of hazardous conditions or structures.

State Rep. Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, said Monday that legislation is being drafted to make plaintiffs responsible for paying defendants’ legal fees if they lose and to clarify whether landowners are protected from liability when they get something in return for allowing people onto the property.

The latter issue came up in Jasmin’s lawsuit because whoever his friend spoke to allegedly gave Jasmin permission to hunt in exchange for killing as many coyotes as he could on the land. Chandler and other supporters of changing the law want to clarify that landowners shouldn’t be held liable if they accept some token payment.

“We felt the law we had was probably good enough, but you can always make improvements,” Chandler said.

Corliss’s attorney, state Rep. Brandon Giuda, said the case highlighted the need for attorneys to confirm the facts of a case before suing rather than a need to dramatically change the law.

“New Hampshire landowners do not need to worry about being sued by hunters on their property because we have a strong immunity statute,” said Giuda, R-Chichester. And if landowners have insurance, that will cover the cost of an attorney if they do get sued, he said.

“A lot of people probably posted their property this year, but the lesson is, ‘You don’t need to worry,”‘ he said.

Branch said his client will continue to try to identify the actual owner of the tree stand and would consider filing a new claim.

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