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MO - Hunters Can't Blame Landowners, Missouri Supreme Court Says

Hunters Can't Blame Landowners, Missouri Supreme Court Says

By Allison Retka
Posted on: Wednesday, 11 June 2008, 00:00 CDT

When Missouri landowners give people free access to their land, they are immune to any suits filed over injuries or deaths on the property, the state Supreme Court decided Tuesday.

For Hermann farmers Carlton and Arline Young, the opinion is a shield from a wrongful death suit filed against them in 2005 over an accidental shooting on their land.

The Youngs gave permission to local hunters James Shaw and John Hartnagel to search for wild turkeys on their land on April 22, 2004. The problem was that neither man knew the other was hunting on the farm that day.

When he thought he heard the yelp of a turkey, Hartnagel raised his gun and fired. The noise was actually made by Shaw, a local doctor, who was killed.

Shaw's relatives filed suit against Hartnagel in Gasconade County Circuit Court. They also named the Youngs as defendants and claimed they were negligent because the couple failed to warn each hunter of the other's presence on the farm.

The Youngs contended they were protected by the Missouri Recreational Use Act, which lays out legal immunities for landowners who give people access to their property for recreational use. That term includes activities such as hunting, camping or nature study.

When Gasconade County Circuit Judge Gael D. Wood denied the Youngs' motion to dismiss last year, the couple appealed the matter to the high court.

The Supreme Court sided with the Youngs in a short opinion authored by Judge William Ray Price Jr. State statutes expressly provide immunity for landowners, the court wrote, even if the death or injury was caused by another person on the property.

P. Dennis Barks, the Hermann attorney for the Shaws, said the wrongful death case against Hartnagel has been stalled while the Supreme Court considered the Youngs' portion of the case.

He said his clients maintained that the Youngs could have done a better job of warning the men that they would both be hunting on the property.

Criminal charges were never pursued against Hartnagel over the shooting, Barks said, although the man's hunting license was revoked for five years.

David B. Bub, a Brown & James attorney for the Youngs, said his research on the case turned up few cases in Missouri that mention the state's Recreational Use Act, enacted in 1983.

"As unfortunate of an accident as this case was, it is these types of accidents that the Missouri Legislature had in mind when they enacted the Recreational Use Act to protect landowners," Bub said.

Originally published by Allison Retka.

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