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New law shields landowners from liability over camping injuries, prescribed burns

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A bill signed into law Wednesday offers new liability protections for Missouri landowners and campground operators. 

HB 369, sponsored by Rep. Tim Taylor, creates liability protections for owners and operators of campgrounds, shielding them from being held liable for injuries on the property. Owners are exempt from liability from injuries on their property stemming from the “inherent risk of camping” unless the owner or an employee willfully contributed to the injury, disregarded dangers, or failed to post warning signs. 

Missourians who own private property close to trails or parks were granted similar protections under the bill, freeing them from liability over injuries incurred by trespassers or those allowed onto the land for recreational purposes. 

The bill also protects landowners or associated parties from liability for damages or injuries caused by a controlled burn or the resulting smoke. Certified burn managers are covered under the bill unless found to be negligent. The provision was backed by several agricultural groups, including the Missouri Prairie Foundation, the Missouri Department of Conservation, and the Sierra Club, all of which said liability protection was vital for landowners across the state. 

Taylor, a freshman, said he was excited to move a bill along the process and provide assurances for Missouri landowners. 

“I am privileged to sponsor legislation this year that made it all the way through the process and is headed to the governor’s desk. As a freshman, that is not the norm,” Taylor said. “For a state that leads the nation on conservation efforts, Missouri is one of only five states that does not have statutes relating to prescribed burning — therefore, few insurance companies will issue professional liability insurance to individuals conducting prescribed burns.”

“This bill just ensures people who are doing what they’re supposed to aren’t liable when other people don’t follow the rules,” he said.

Gov. Mike Parson signed off on the bill Wednesday. 

Parson signs off on landowner liability bill
Gov. Mike Parson signed off on Rep. Tim Taylors bill offering liability protection for landowners on July 14. (THE MISSOURI TIMES/KAITLYN SCHALLHORN)

The bill also changed the designation of feral hogs to feral swine and required anyone knowingly releasing them to pay up to $2,000. Possession or transportation of feral swine through public land will be a class E felony if it is the second offense within 10 years, and killing swine on public or private land without the owner’s consent is a misdemeanor under the bill.  

“Across the U.S., feral hogs cause as much as $1.5 billion in damage each year. In southern Missouri, feral hogs root up crops and damage pastures to the point some lands can no longer be farmed,” Missouri Farm Bureau President Garrett Hawkins said. “We appreciate the leadership of Rep. Tim Taylor and Sen. Mike Bernskoetter on this legislation and Gov. Parson taking this threat seriously as we continue to work toward our ultimate goal of complete eradication of feral hogs.”

Finally, state agencies are prohibited from placing surveillance or game cameras on private property without a landowner’s approval or a search warrant. Similar language was considered as part of another landowner rights bill from Rep. Kent Hayden clarifying who could inspect agricultural facilities but failed to make it onto the final version of the bill. That bill was signed into law last month. 

Property rights were a focal point of the legislature this session; in addition to privacy and liability protection, a bill seeking to restrict the power of projects — namely the Grain Belt Express project — received support from landowners and leadership in both chambers but failed to make it across the finish line this session. Agriculture groups advocated for another attempt at passing the bill before the Joint Committee on Agriculture last week.