The Iowa Legislature is in overtime this week with a long list of unresolved issues. Most of the budget bills are in a conference committee to work out differences between the House and Senate versions.
The state budget is the only thing that must be settled before we adjourn. This year, however there are a several other issues holding up adjournment.
For example: The Republican health care plan it will cost more, provide less coverage to fewer people than the Democrats plan to expand Medicaid? Republicans have yet to acknowledge the fiscal realities of their health plan.
Iowa’s Recreational Land Use Immunity Law
In the Sallee v. Stewart case, the Iowa Supreme Court was asked to interpret Iowa’s recreational land use immunity law (RLUIL). The impact of the Sallee ruling on Iowa’s RLUIL is minimal, and that the Farm Bureau’s proposed legislation is an over-reaction. If you invite people onto your land, you have a duty to use reasonable care to either ensure that the premises are in safe condition, or to warn your guests about any dangerous condition. If you don’t do that, and someone gets hurt on your property – then your homeowner’s liability insurance will pay for damages.
To encourage private landowners to make their land available to the public for recreational purposes, the Iowa legislature passed the RLUIL, which allowed that a property owner is immune from liability if the guest is using his property for “recreational purposes.” RLUIL defines “recreational purpose”: “hunting, trapping, horseback riding, fishing, swimming, boating, camping, picnicking, hiking, pleasure driving, motorcycling, nature study, water skiing, snowmobiling, other summer and winter sports, and viewing or enjoying historical, archaeological, scenic, or scientific sites….” When Iowans choose to take advantage of a landowner’s generosity and enter his land for the previously stated activities, the guest is responsible for personal safety.
In northeast Iowa, the Stewarts owned a dairy farm and provided students with guided tours. In May 2010, Ms. Sallee was a chaperone for a tour, which included a visit to the barn’s hayloft.
Mr. Stewart warned the children not to climb too high on the hay bales stacked against the walls but did not warn that some of the hay bales were placed on top of large holes in the floor. When Ms. Sallee stood on one of these bales of hay, it collapsed and she fell through the floor, sustaining serious injuries. Ms. Sallee sued the Stewarts and the Stewarts’ insurance company cited Iowa’s RLUIL.
The Iowa Supreme Court held that Ms. Sallee had a right to her claim because the RLUIL did not apply, since “playing in the hay” was not one of the “recreational activities” spelled out. The Sallee decision does not reduce a landowner’s protection under the RLUIL so long as the landowner is allowing public entry onto his land for the primary purpose of engaging in one of the activities specifically spelled out.
Overreacting to the narrow Supreme Court decision, the Farm Bureau has requested HF 605. HF 605 would hold a property owner immune from liability even if a s/he leads a group of children into contact with a dangerous condition and fails to provide any warning or protection. HF 605 protects insurance companies. Legislating away all responsibility is unacceptable public policy.
Opportunities for children to safely visit an Iowa farm need to be protected; Farmers providing farm tours need to be aware of their rights and responsibilities. We are working on a compromise that will insure just that.
Quote of the week: “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” –Antoine de Saint Exupery