At the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension seminar “Owning Your Piece of Texas: Key Laws Texas Landowners Need to Know,” attorney Tiffany Dowell Lashmet (Associate Professor & Extension Specialist) had several salient points of advice for Landowners in order to manage land liability and lawsuits.
Basically, there are two types of claims: Negligent acts and premises liability. The level of duty on the part of the landowner depends upon the category of injured person: Trespasser, licensee, or invitee.
However, there are five basic steps landowners should embrace to maximize liability protection:
Ranch Liability Checklist
- Have liability insurance
- Identify dangerous conditions on the land and either warn or neutralize the danger
- Obtain written liability waivers from anyone on the property
- Consider using a business entity as a shield between the property and the owner’s other assets
- Ensure that limited liability statutes apply to the operation. The Texas limited liability statutes are enumerated below.
Dowell-Lashmet points out that liability insurance for vacant, non-business operations land can be surprisingly inexpensive. She says that this insurance is a must for any landowner looking to protect their assets. The landowner must make sure, however, that every activity that is occurring on the land is covered by the insurance. Landowners should watch for caps on liability for specific activities. She points out that many policies have a low cap on pesticide overspray. This might not be a big deal on land used for grazing. But cropland would be another matter entirely.
She also pointed out that “umbrella policies” generally only increase liability limits. They do not expand the scope of coverage of the base policy.
Dowell-Lashmet pointed out that the highest duty a landowner owes is to notify visitors of dangers and mitigate those dangers wherever possible: Plug abandoned wells and install warning signs; Warn of potentially hidden dangers (barbed wire, dangerous terrain, etc.); Install signage warning of unpredictable farm animals.
Written liability waivers are essential and must be drafted by an attorney and updated on a regular basis. Case law changes!
Owning your land through a business entity offers certain protections to your other assets. However, this can be cumbersome to manage and one must be diligent to maintain the corporate veil. My own note here: If you are financing your property this may be even more difficult, as this will likely push you into a commercial loan.
Texas has limited liability statutes that can be helpful. However, each has its own limitations and advisement requirements. These statutes include the Texas Recreational Use Statute, the Texas Agritourism Act, and the Texas Farm Animal Liability Act. You can learn more at www.AgriLife.org/TexasAgLaw.
While there are many methods in Texas to help protect landowners from malicious litigation, common sense prevails. Remove and remediate hazards, inform visitors about potential hazards and risks and make efforts to ensure the safety of guests and interlopers alike in order to minimize your land liability.
Check out my other blog post on choosing a homestead property here.