Recreation Law Group Helps Secure Significant Outfitting Industry Legislative Achievement

Amendment Strengthens Liability Waiver Protection for Outdoor Recreation Providers in Idaho

On March 22, 2023, Idaho Governor Brad Little signed Senate Bill 1051 into law, amending Idaho code to strengthen liability protections for outfitters and guides and confirm the enforceability of liability waivers for the outfitting and guiding industry.

Recreation Law Group managing attorney Leah Corrigan worked with the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association (IOGA) to champion the legislation. Recreation Law Group provided pro-bono services to IOGA including outfitter education workshops, consulting with legislators, bill drafting, and testimony.

The amendment provides that outfitters and guides have immunity from liability unless they are found to be negligent or reckless. It clarifies that liability waivers for outfitters and guides are enforceable. It also emphasizes that outfitters and guides are not expected to eliminate, alter, or control the inherent risks of outdoor recreational activities.

Aaron Lieberman, Executive Director of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association, expressed the Association’s appreciation:  The passage of SB1051 into law arguably represents the single most significant legislative accomplishment—ever—in support of outfitting and guiding in Idaho, and without Leah Corrigan’s direct involvement it is exceedingly unlikely that it would ever have been realized.

Leah identified the problems in the previous law, worked with our Association and important committee members to develop amending statutory language, and provided truly invaluable support throughout the legislative process—from addressing detailed legal arguments to meeting with key legislators and providing committee testimony. What’s more, she did all of this pro bono.

Idaho’s outfitters and guides owe Leah and the Recreation Law Group an enormous debt of gratitude.”

The Importance of Liability Waivers in Outdoor Recreation

Liability waivers are a key legal protection for outfitters and guides. If a lawsuit is brought against an outdoor recreation business or organization, the first line of defense is a well-drafted liability waiver. A well-drafted waiver will also contain important language regarding inherent risk and the legal assumption of that risk by the participant. Without a comprehensive liability waiver or assumption of risk form, outdoor recreation providers may find themselves in an expensive and lengthy lawsuit, attempting to prove lack of negligence in court. Defending a case in court can create serious monetary, reputation, and insurance consequences.

A well-drafted liability waiver is a key document for protecting outdoor recreation businesses and organizations. A liability waiver should be drafted to align with the unique character of a business or organization. It should also be regularly reviewed by an experienced and knowledgeable attorney well-versed in both outdoor recreation and defending lawsuits.

It is also important to ensure a liability waiver is being deployed using best practices including appropriate distribution timing, clear formatting, effective staff training, and more.

The Benefit of SB 1051

The amendment supports the Idaho guiding and outfitting industry by reducing the attractiveness of filing a lawsuit against an outdoor recreation provider. It should also result in more early dismissals of cases where waivers are present or where injury or death was the result of an inherent risk. If a case does go to trial, the amendment creates a greater likelihood of a favorable jury verdict. Broadly, the signing of the SB1051 should also help to reduce the cost of liability insurance industry-wide within the state of Idaho.

The amendment provides outfitters and guides with the same clear statutory protection that Idaho ski area operators enjoy. The updated language also puts Idaho outfitters and guides on similar legal footing to outfitter operations in neighboring states.

The Previous Law and Liability

Under previous law, it was possible that waivers would not be enforceable. This was based on a 1984 case against Sun Valley that ruled a liability waiver wasn’t enforceable as a matter of public policy because the outfitter had “public duties” imposed by statute.  IC Code 6-1206 limited liability for licensed outfitters and guides but only so long as they were complying with all duties placed upon them by statute or the rules of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Licensing Board (IOGLB). IOGLB Rules had significantly problematic language related to “safety.” Therefore, if a plaintiff alleged that an outfitter did not conduct the trip “safely,” there would be an expensive court battle over whether the immunity from liability applied at all.

Recreation Law Group is proud to stand alongside our clients, the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association, and all Idaho outdoor recreation businesses and organizations in securing this impactful legislation.

Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to provide legal advice, nor should it be viewed as such. Legal advice can only be provided based on specific facts. We recommend, as we must, that you consult an attorney before implementing any advice in this blog post. Receiving or viewing this blog post does not constitute an attorney-client relationship.

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