West Virginia (WV) is home to beautiful and wondrous open spaces, where people from all over come to enjoy the state’s parks, rivers, streams, and mountains. Vast open space is dwindling. The West Virginia Legislature, in recognizing that it must protect the state’s natural resources, passed a statute amending the WV recreational land use law to protect landowners who open their land for recreational use to the public, as well as to military training.
The Basics of the New WV Recreational Land Use Law
WV Landowner Liability Protections
West Virginia Code § 19-25-1 et seq. is entitled “Limiting Liability of Landowners Act,” and the preamble to The Act states a clear purpose. West Virginians are encouraged to open their lands to visitors to allow access to the public for recreation, wildlife propagation, and military training by limiting liability to people who use the property for recreation. In consideration for granting the public access to the land, the Act limits the landowner’s liability for injuries suffered by a visitor to the land. The limitations, however, are not absolute, but they go a long way in protecting landowners from lawsuits if someone is hurt on their property.
Under the Act, a landowner may not be found liable for injuries to people who use their land for recreation. In WV, landowners generally have a duty of care to protect people who enter their lands from injury. The Act does not extend that duty to people entering the land for recreational purposes. The Act also does not impose a duty of a landowner to warn about known dangers or hazardous conditions on the property if the people entering the property are using the property for recreational purposes. Users of the property do not become licensees or invitees to whom a higher duty of care is owed by the landowner. Granting a governmental agency an easement or a lease in the property will not create liability on behalf of the landowner, either. The Act does allow parties to agree to the contrary.
The Act creates an obligation on permitted land users. The Act specifically creates an affirmative duty on behalf of land users to use a duty of care to protect themselves from injury.
WV Recreational Land Use Law’s Landowner Protection Has Limits
The immunity granted to landowners is not without limits. The Act extends certain protections to people who use the land. For instance, the Act does not protect a landowner who charges a fee for access to the property. Instead, the Act protects donors of property use and not those who are trying to make money by granting access to their land. The Act has additional limitations, as well. For example, the Act will not immunize a landlord’s intentional behavior that injures a property user. Accordingly, the Act does not immunize landowners’ criminal behavior.
Need More Information about West Virginia’s Recreational Land Use Statute?
The WV recreational land use law makes it easy for landowners to open their lands for the public to use for recreational purposes, such as hunting, fishing, swimming, boating, camping, and hiking. Despite this ease of access, a landowner who has the space to share should do so only after consultation with experienced attorneys such as those at Hendrickson & Long. Use our Contact form or call us at 304-346-5500 today to speak with attorneys experienced in WV recreational land use law.