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Bill addresses liability when OHV riders make recreational use of land

Off-highway vehicles would be barred from this primitive road under a travel management plan being developed for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in eastern Arizona. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Grant Martin)

Off-highway vehicles would be barred from this primitive road under a travel management plan being developed for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in eastern Arizona. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Grant Martin)

Landowners, leaseholders and taxpayers shouldn’t be liable for damages when off-highway vehicle riders get in accidents on public and private land, a state senator said.

Current law prohibits individuals from suing if they are fishing, hunting, camping and swimming on such land as recreational users.

SB 1229, authored by Sen. John Nelson, R-Litchfield Park, would expand the definition of a recreational user to include a person using an off-highway, off-road or all-terrain vehicle.

“Those that want to drive across those lands on their own and hurt themselves, they should bear their burden of the cost,” Nelson said.

The state Senate has approved the bill, and the measure won a unanimous endorsement Thursday from the House Judiciary Committee.

The Arizona State Land Department asked Nelson, chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and Transportation Committee, to carry the bill. The department manages 9.3 million acres of land around the state.

“With the proliferation of OHV activity, we think it only makes sense we have protection in statute,” said Vanessa Hickman, Arizona’s deputy state land commissioner.

The Arizona Cattlemen’s Association, Arizona Nature Conservancy chapter and the Arizona Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition registered their support for the measure.

Rep. Frank Pratt, R-Casa Grande, who signed on as a primary sponsor of the bill, said it’s important to keep land open to people who want to use it.

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“The alternative to defining liability on this quite possibly could be the closure of these lands,” Pratt said.

Nelson said the measure shouldn’t be seen as a way for landowners, leaseholders and the state to duck liability for negligence. The bill and current law make exceptions for negligence and malicious conduct.

“We’re just saying that if you use it on your own and you get hurt, we as landowners should not be held liable for what you as an individual do to yourself,” he said.

Current ‘recreational uses’:

• Hunting
• Fishing
• Trapping
• Camping
• Hiking
• Riding
• Exercising
• Swimming

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