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What duty of care is owed to Virginia hunters?

The duty of care owed to a Virginian who is on another's property depends in part on why that individual was on the property owner's land. There are many reasons why a person may go on another's property, whether it is as a customer, an invited guest, or for recreational purposes.

Virginia law recognizes specific limits regarding the duty of care that property owners owe those pursuing recreational activities on their property, including hunters and other sportsmen. Under Virginia law, a landowner does not owe a duty of care to keep his or her land safe for those entering or using the property for hunting, trapping, fishing, or camping. Similarly, no duty of care is owed to those who are using another's property for boating or other water sports, as well as for rock climbing, hiking, sightseeing, horseback riding, foxhunting, cutting or removing firewood, bicycle riding, or racing.

Furthermore, landowners generally do not have to warn those entering onto their property for one of the aforementioned purposes of hazardous conditions or structures, regardless of whether the landowner has given permission for use of the land for such recreational purposes.

There is an exception, however, to these duty of care limitations if a landowner exhibits gross negligence or demonstrates a malicious failure to warn against a dangerous activity, use, structure, or condition. In such a case, a negligent property owner may be held liable for damage caused as a result of his or her dangerous property conditions and accompanying failure to warn.

If you have been injured on another's Virginia property while involved in a recreational activity, you may wish to consult with an attorney regarding your rights. Whether a property owner will have a duty of care or not will depend on the circumstances of each case, and an attorney may be able to offer guidance.

Source: Virginia Legislature, "Code of Virginia Sec. 29.1-509," accessed March 11, 2016

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