Do landowners have any potential liability?

Landowners are generally not responsible for recreational activities on their land, only for risks arising from work or workplaces.

This means that if a rock climber hurts themselves as a result of climbing while on a landowner’s property, the landowner would not have any liability for the accident. If there is any work occurring at the property, the landowner needs to make sure that visitors are not put at risk by the work.

No liability for recreational activities

Rock climbing is a recreational activity, much like tramping and hunting. Landowners do not have to manage the risks of recreational activities on their land. That’s the responsibility of the person taking part in the activity.

The only exception is when the landowner also ‘provides’ the activity. For example, if they work as a climbing guide.

WorkSafe New Zealand is the agency responsible for investigating work-related accidents. WorkSafe’s official guidance states:

“We don’t want to stop recreational access. To date, we haven’t investigated or prosecuted any accidents that have happened when visitors have been hurt as a result of their own recreational activities.”

“If someone accesses land for recreation and hurts themselves as a result of the recreation activity, the [landowner or manager] who provided access isn’t responsible.”

So what obligations do landowners have?

Landowners are responsible for managing risks from work or workplaces on their land. They are not responsible for naturally occurring features on their land, such as cliffs.

Rock climbers rarely go to places where work is occurring, so in most cases there will be no duty to warn climbers about work-related hazards.

If there are work-related hazards on the property that could put visitors at risk, landowners can often meet the required duties in simple ways. This could be informing visitors through signs, emails, in person, on the phone. Or by restricting access to places where work is occurring.

Many hazards are expected on a farm and a farmer does not need to warn visitors about these,  livestock and electric fences for example. A farmer must warn visitors of hazards that they would not expect to encounter, such as tree-felling, blasting, earthmoving machinery, or pest control activities.

This obligation only relates to parts of the farm that visitors will be accessing. There is no need to warn visitors about hazards that are not on or near an area or route the visitor will be using, or about natural features like cliffs, rivers, and wasp nests.

Can a visitor sue a landowner if they have an accident?

In some countries it is common for people that have an accident to ‘sue’ people or businesses to seek compensation.

New Zealand’s legal system is different, and it is generally not possible to take legal action in relation to a personal injury by accident. If you suffer such an injury in New Zealand your medical costs will be paid for by ACC, which will usually cover lost income as well.

This means that a visiting rock climber would not be able to sue a landowner in relation to an injury they suffered as a result of climbing.

Further information

If you would like to find out more about the law around recreational access to land, we recommend reading WorkSafe’s Policy Clarification and FAQs.  

We also recommend the New Zealand Walking Access Commission’s advice about the Health and safety responsibilities of farmers to recreational visitors.

If you have any further questions about liability, please contact us. We welcome the opportunity to discuss your situation and ensure that any concerns are properly addressed.