Anew Pennsylvania law might help farmers protect their crops from burgeoning deer herds -- but it's not likely to give them blanket protection from lawsuits, as some lawmakers suggest.
Gov. Tom Corbett last week signed into law a bill that absolves property owners of liability for acts committed by someone they allowed to hunt on their land.
It passed with overwhelming support in both the House and Senate, including the entire York County delegation.
State Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, said he supported the legislation because farmers want to thin the herds because deer can cause severe crop damage, but they don't want to be held liable for someone else's actions.
"If two folks are hunting and one shoots another, theoretically an attorney could say the landowner was responsible for allowing the activity to take place," said state Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-Springettsbury Township.
Majority Whip Rep. Stan Saylor said landowners might have no knowledge of wrongdoing if, say, a hunter was to shoot a neighbor's livestock or send a bullet through a nearby home.
"You could be perfectly innocent, but someone could be bankrupted by a lawsuit over something like this, fighting to defend himself or herself," the Windsor Township Republican said. "If I had knowledge they were going to do something like that, that's a difference."
Yet farmers still might find themselves defendants in lawsuits for mishaps on their land.
The new law actually amends an existing law regarding liability for the actions of others by carving out an exclusion for certain landowners.
"A landowner who allows or grants permission to a person to take game or wildlife on the landowner's property shall not be liable under this section for an unlawful act committed by that person unless the landowner willfully aids, abets, assists, attempts or conspires in the commission of the unlawful act," the law reads.
The key phrase here is "unlawful act" -- the law offers no protection against civil action.
It's a distinction state Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, understood, and he said he only supported the bill because it focused on criminal activity.
"On the civil side, the issue becomes more case-by-case," especially if a landowner is charging a fee to hunters, he said.
Maybe the law will inspire more farmers to open their land to hunters who will help control the state's deer population.
But they will have to be as vigilant as ever to ensure hunters don't endanger themselves or others on their property.