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Monday, July 2, 2007

New Law Shields Landowners From Liability in Hunting Accidents

By RILEY YATES
Bucks County Courier Times

Landowners will be protected from lawsuits due to hunting accidents under a bill approved without opposition in the Pennsylvania Legislature.

House Bill 13, which goes to Gov. Ed Rendell's desk for signature, explicitly shields owners from civil penalties for injuries caused by sportsmen on their land.

It comes after a Lehigh County jury found a farmer partly liable for the accidental shooting of a pregnant woman near Allentown, a decision last year that hunting advocates and farmers said made people reluctant to open their properties to hunters.

Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, R-10, the chairman of the Games and Fisheries Committee, said current law should already prohibit landlords from being held responsible for hunting accidents. But he said the bill makes the rules more cut and dry, in order to address concerns.

“We spelled it out real clear, so there would be no confusion,” said McIlhinney. “We wanted to send a clear message to all the landowners who were worried.”

Deer populations have boomed in Southeast Pennsylvania, leading to complaints of lost crops, car accidents and damaged forests. Though recreational hunting is the state's main curb on wildlife numbers, some communities are pursuing further methods.

Solebury is paying the U.S. Department of Agriculture more than $250,000 to hire sharpshooters to cull deer over the next two years. Upper Makefield has contracted with a private company that will encourage bow hunting in the township.

McIlhinney on Friday defended Solebury's effort, which has been controversial among residents who charge it is inappropriate and overly expensive. Solebury's deer numbers are too great to be brought down by hunting alone, McIlhinney said. Many sportsmen shy from suburban Bucks County, where rifle hunting is banned, he said.

“When the Audubon Society comes to you and says you should kill some deer, then you know that something has to be done,” McIlhinney said.
“There's just too many deer and not enough hunters,” he said.
The liability protection bill was heralded by the Farm Bureau.

Glenn Wismer, the president of the Bucks County bureau's board of directors, said many farmers worried they could be penalized for a hunting accident on their property.
“With the litigation lottery-type mentality we have, it's just not something you want to deal with,” said Wismer, who farms 400 acres in Bedminster.

Last year, a similar measure passed the House but died when the session ended before the Senate could consider it.

The House approved the bill this year in May. The upper chamber endorsed it on Wednesday.
McIlhinney's district includes Falls, Lower Makefield, Morrisville, Tullytown, Newtown, Newtown Township, Upper Makefield, Yardley, 20 municipalities in Central and Upper Bucks and two Montgomery County communities.

Riley Yates can be reached at 215-345-3133 or rdyates@phillyBurbs.com.

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