Come Out and Play: West Virginia Statute Limits Landowner Liability for Injuries on Land Used for Recreational Purposes

West Virginia 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 its natural resources, passed a statute protecting landowners who open their land for recreation use to the public as well as to military training.

Landowner Protections

West Virginia Code, chapter 19, article 25 is entitled “Limiting Liability of Landowners Act” (“The Act”). 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 go a long way in protecting a landowner from a lawsuit 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. Generally, landowners 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 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 the land user to use a duty of care to protect themselves from injury.

Limitations to Protection

A landowner’s protections have limitations. The Act extends protections to people who use the land. For instance, The Act does not protect the landowner who charges a fee for access to the property. The Act protects donors of their property and not those who are trying to make money by granting access to their land. The Act has additional limitations as well. The Act will not immunize the landlord’s intentional behavior that injures a property user. Accordingly, The Act does not immunize criminal behavior as well.

For More Information

West Virginia’s legislature makes it easy for a landowner to open their lands for the public to use. A landowner who has the space to share should do so only after consultation with experienced attorneys such as Hendrickson & Long who defend landowners against lawsuits for injuries suffered on their land.