Liability exemption proposed for landowners

The Judiciary Committee heard testimony Feb. 13 on a bill that would exempt landowners from recreational liability.

Under LB551, introduced by Ogallala Sen. Ken Schilz, the recreational use of private land would be considered an inherent risk for the participants and would exempt the landowners from liability of any injuries or death of the participant occurring on their property.

Landowners who are aware of dangerous conditions must post warning signs on their property or they would remain liable for any injuries to or death of the participant.

Schilz said 97 percent of Nebraska land is privately owned. The bill would encourage landowners to grant others access to their land for recreation without fear of being held liable for accidents, he said.

Deb Loseke, representing the Nebraska Travel Association, testified in support of the bill, saying that tourism is Nebraska’s third largest industry. Farmers and ranchers should be encouraged to grant public access to their land, she said, but lawyers and insurance companies discourage agritourism because of its liability risks.

“Farmers and ranchers need an opportunity to share what they love with those who want to experience it,” Loseke said.

Amy Sandeen, the executive director of Prairie Loft Center for Outdoor and Agricultural Learning, also testified in support of the bill. Less than 2 percent of the state’s population lives on farms, she said, so agrarian settings are needed to provide better educational opportunities to the public.

John Lindsay, representing the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys, testified in opposition to the bill, saying that liability takes effect only when someone has been careless.

“This bill, to some extent, allows people to be negligent,” he said.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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