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MASSEY, HIGGINBOTHAM, VISE, AND PHILLIPS, P.A.

Legal Devices to Help Hunting Clubs and Landowners Minimize Their Liability

by Mike Massey on February 6, 2012

Incorporate or form an LLC

Hunting Clubs

Hunting clubs can minimize liability exposure by incorporating. A properly organized corporation covers its members from personal liability for club activities.

Many hunting clubs are nothing more than unincorporated associations, groups of hunters who are pooling their money to pay for a hunting lease.  Unincorporated associations do not shield their members from personal liability.  This is something that hunting clubs should carefully consider

Landowners

Landowners leasing to hunting clubs may consider creating an LLC or other legal entity and transferring the land they intend to lease to it.  Incorporating protects the landowner from being directly liable for mishaps. Therefore, someone who gets injured may have a cause of action against the club or the entity holding title to the land, he may be prevented from attaching the personal assets of the individual members or landowner.

Considerations

If you decide to incorporate, you must maintain records, file annual tax returns and keep the minutes of meetings. You must also follow corporate formalities like proper elections of board members and officers.

The cost of incorporating may be less than you think, and the benefits of reducing liability may far outweigh the expense. More sophisticated clubs may have detailed agreements dealing with transfers of stock, inheritance of stock by family members, buy-sell agreements, etc.

Besides liability issues, tax considerations may also play a major role in the proper choice of entity, especially for clubs that own, rather than lease their land.  You should always consider the tax implications before conveying land.  Many large landowners such as International Paper and Georgia Pacific require hunting clubs to incorporate before they will enter into leases with them

Purchase liability insurance

Another method to limit financial exposure is to purchase a general liability insurance policy to protect the hunting club or landowner.  While many landowners have homeowners’ insurance policies already in place, the activities allowed by a lease agreement may not be covered by the general policy.  You may need to invest in a rider to the policy or require the hunting to club carry a general liability insurance policy with the landowner named as an additional insured.  Regardless of whether the landowner requires the hunting club to carry liability insurance, it is still a good idea for a hunting club to purchase some sort of policy.

Many insurance companies offer policies that are both affordable and offer liability protection to hunting clubs.  Additionally, by allocating the premium cost in the annual dues, the per member cost may make the insurance premiums affordable.  You should take care to review the exclusions and make sure what types of mishaps are covered.  For example, some policies only cover accidents that occur on the land, but not accidents in the physical structures such as the clubhouse or deer stand.  Four wheeler accidents may also be excluded.  You should be sure that you as an individual fully understand the extent of coverage under the club’s policy.  If you believe that more coverage is needed, you may consider purchasing an individual policy to protect you individual interest. Don’t wait until you need the coverage to learn about the policy’s exclusions.

Require the signing of waivers

Some landowners require hunting clubs to sign waivers or releases of liability before leasing land to them.  Hunting clubs sometimes require their own members and guests to sign waivers of liability before allowing them to hunt.  The waiver agreement must be based on offer and acceptance between two parties in equal bargaining position.  The waiver must be based on some consideration.  This consideration does not have to necessarily be money, the exchange of the right to hunt for agreeing not to sue may be enough.  A waiver of rights should be carefully drafted to ensure its legality.  Courts sometimes take a dim view of waivers when there is not adequate consideration flowing to the person who is giving up what may be an extremely valuable right.  The hunting club should consult an attorney to the sure that their interests are protected.

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