Landowners frequently want to know, “Am I liable for damages if someone gets hurt on my property?” It may not surprise you to learn that it depends.
State legislators recognized several decades ago that with most of Wisconsin’s lands in private ownership and a citizenry that loves to get outside, landowners deserved protection should an accident occur – especially since they’re encouraged to open their lands to public recreation.
Thus, in 1963, Wisconsin’s Recreational Use Statute, Sec. 895.52, eliminated the liability of landowners when they open their property to recreational use.
However, there are some very important exceptions to this statute. Test your knowledge of your liability below.
1) A person hunting in your woods without your permission steps into a hole and breaks his ankle. Are you liable for his injury, yes or no?
2) You invite a friend to make firewood on your land. While cutting wood about 250 feet from your cabin, he accidentally cuts himself with the chainsaw. Can you be held liable?
3) As an absentee landowner, you don’t visit your property very often in winter. During one of your absences, a snowmobiler on a designated trail that crosses your property crashes her snowmobile into a fallen log partially obscured by snow. Are you liable for this accident?
4) You host a softball tournament on your land. During it, one of the participants gets hit in the nose with a ball and has to go to the emergency room. Can you be held responsible?
1) The answer is no. You generally have no responsibility for injury to trespassers. However, if you intentionally set up a hazard to “teach trespassers a lesson,” you could be held liable if your malicious intent is proven in court.
2) The answer is yes. In general, your aren’t liable when an invited guest gets hurt on your land unless the injury occurs on developed (platted) land; within 300 feet of a building used for commercial or manufacturing purposes; or within a 300-foot radius of a home. In other words, if the accident had occurred several hundred yards out in the woods instead, the recreational use statue would protect you.
3) The answer is no. Under the recreational use statute, landowners are not legally obligated to inspect their property, keep it safe for recreational use, or warn recreationists of any unsafe conditions.
4) The answer is yes. The statute grants landowners immunity from liability for injuries that happen during nearly all recreational activities, including cutting firewood, hunting, rock climbing, cross country skiing, snowmobiling, and many, many others. The lone exception? Organized team sport, like softball.
Want to learn more? Visit our web page on personal liability for landowners.