Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

Opinion

March 22, 2013

The Heartsill Report

Thus Saith the Court

Columbia —  

As bills continue to move through both the House and Senate chambers, there is one issue that seems to have come out of nowhere, but has a significant impact on Iowa landowners’ liability.  The issue stems from a recent Iowa Supreme Court decision, Sallee v. Stewart, where the court essentially invalidated the Iowa recreational use statute in its present form.

To be more specific, this decision has the real potential of ending recreational use of privately owned land, such as hunting, fishing, swimming, boating, camping, hiking, school field trips, et cetera.  I probably had most everyone’s attention at “hunting and fishing.”

The nearly 50-year-old recreational use statute in Iowa Code has provided liability protection primarily for farmers and other rural landowners who allow public access to their lands for recreational purposes.  With the court’s Salle decision, those protections seem to have been dismantled via judicial interpretation.

Iowa State University’s Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation has issued a bulletin which is an excellent resource in explaining the background and legal ramifications of the 75-page Salle decision.  The authors of this bulletin, Erika Eckley and Roger McEowen, conclude:

“Landowners should take steps to protect themselves by preventing entry by any persons upon their property, within their structures, or upon their farms. The promised liability protection for opening agricultural land to others for recreational purposes no longer exists. The risks of continuing the practice are great with limited opportunities to guard against liability.”

To remedy this situation, a bill has been drafted and is working its way through the House of Representatives, House File 605.  This bill essentially replaces all the original intent of the recreational use statute that was stripped out by the Salle decision.

House File 605 first originated in the House Agriculture Committee, but has since been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.  As a member of the Judiciary Committee, I have been assigned the chair of the bill’s subcommittee.  I will be working with my fellow subcommittee members to assure its passage in the House so that it can move on to the Senate as quickly as possible.

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