Citizens and visitors to Michigan have many opportunities to pursue recreational activities in natural settings. Thanks to the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (“NREPA”), the owners, tenants, and lessees of Michigan agricultural and farm properties enjoy certain protections from liability whenever members of the public come onto their land to engage in such activities.
Section 73301 of NREPA identifies several scenarios under which owners, tenants, and lessees of agricultural land are protected from liability for injuries that occur on the land. First, the statute generally prohibits causes of action against owners, tenants, and lessees for injuries to a person who is on their land, without paying them to be there, for the purpose of fishing, hunting, trapping, camping, hiking, sightseeing, motorcycling, snowmobiling, or any other outdoor recreational use or trail use. Regardless of whether the person is on the land with or without permission, the owner, tenant, or lessee will not be liable for such injuries unless they were caused by the gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct of the owner, tenant, or lessee.
More specific to farm lands, Section 73301 also bars causes of action against the owner, tenant, or lessee of property for injuries to:
- a person who is on the property for the purpose of gleaning agricultural or farm products;
- a person (other than an employee or contractor) who is on the property for the purpose of picking and purchasing agricultural products at a farm or “u-pick” operation; and
- a person who is on a farm for the purpose of fishing or hunting, and has paid the owner, tenant, or lessee for that privilege.
However, in all of these cases, the owner, tenant, and lessee remain liable for injuries that were caused by their own gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct. Moreover, in the last two scenarios, the owner, tenant, and lessee will not escape liability if the injuries were caused by a condition, known to them but not to the injured person, which involved an unreasonable risk of harm and which the owner, tenant, or lessee did not make safe or warn the person about.
Michigan courts have made clear two key points about these protections. First, the protections are expressly for owners, tenants, and lessees only. For instance, in a 2013 case involving injuries sustained on a trail, the Michigan Court of Appeals refused to extend the scope of Section 73301 to protect a tourist association that had entered into an agreement with the owner to improve and maintain the trail, but was not itself an owner, tenant, or lessee of the trail property.
Second, the protections are meant to apply to undeveloped land, like farms and agricultural properties. In cases interpreting the predecessor to Section 73301, the Michigan Court of Appeals has held that the statute was intended to apply to large tracts of undeveloped land suitable for outdoor recreational uses, and not to urban, suburban, or subdivided lands.