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Chris Gholson

Legal Claim Question

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I know we have a lot of knowledgeable members here, so I wanted to ask a question regarding mining claim liability. Let’s say I own an unpatented BLM mining claim out in the Arizona desert. Then say someone comes along and gets injured in some way on the claim. Maybe they drive their quad into a mine shaft, or maybe they get bit by a rattler, or maybe they just sprain an ankle while hiking around. My question is this:

 

Would I, the claim owner, be held liable for these injuries if the person was there without permission?

 

Same question, but a little different:

 

Would I, the claim owner, be held liable for these injuries if the person was there with permission?

 

Thank you for all your advice and help!

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Hi Chris I was told by several people plus with my own research that it is still "Federal land" so they can't really hold the claim owner responsible. Just what I've been told.

Dan

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Chris, I would think that since the claim is only for the minerals that you wouldn't be liable. Anyone can hike, hunt, or drive on the land. They just can't remove any minerals.

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I think you might be liable if they fell in a shaft that you personally dug, but you wouldn't be responsible for historic diggings, or if someone tripped on a rock or tombstone of schist...

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Chris, just because you are not legally liable for any injuries suffered on your claim does not mean that you cannot be sued and taken to court for them. It only means that if the court has any common sense (which seems to be more and more of a rarity in the current court system) the case will be thrown out. You bring up a very interesting question for all claim owners.

 

Mike

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I would see who else owns rights the BLM leases. Cattle graze on my claim, and it is in the desert by Wikenburg. Someone could get timber rights, but probably not common in the area. The three other things I know can be leased from federal land are grazing, timber, and energy. All can be on the same piece of land, but could be different parties. A way to share the burden should it ever happen to you.

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To go a little deeper into what I was thinking of about five years ago. Again not legal advice, but throwing this out for discussion.

 

Liability can be limited if the claim is filed under a LLC. I was going to file my 20 acre claims under an LLC in case something like you mentioned happened on my claim. In theory, liability is limited to the value of the LLC. If something happened they could take that but not go after your house, etc...

 

I went on legalzoom.com and was on the threshold of creating an LLC for the purposes of my claim, but the $75 advertised price turned into $250, so I stopped.

 

As far as permission, again out for discussion, but I think you could be held liable if you allowed someone permission to enter and hurt themselves. A claim is a "Real" piece of something similar to property. I don't think you'd find many written laws about this, but would need to reference common law court rulings in similar cases on mining. For this, Google has it's limits and that is probably not available on Google, but may need to get a mining lawyer to weigh in on that. My guess is prior to letting someone on your claim they would need to sign all sorts of disclaimers saying basically "If you get hurt its not my fault and you can't hold me liable." I really don't think there's many precedents in the courts for this because anyone can own a claim at $150 per 20 acres per year from the BLM, and most of us are just not worth suing. Most of us live week to week and there's no "Claim Owners Insurance" for someone who is hurt to go after like there is "Home owners" or "Auto Insurance" Policies.

 

My gut tells me because mining operations have signs like "Warning: Open Pit Mining," if a friend with a dry washer worked on it and did not fill in the hole, and someone else got hurt, there could be a case for a law suit. The bigger the pit the more likely the suit. Recently, I went to a friends claim he was trying to sell, and a prospective buyer worked a wash a lot, but did not fill the holes in. If someone got hurt in that, who would be responsible?

 

I also know another guy selling a claim, and when two prospective buyers went out to look at it, one of the buyers received a leg injury and asked the seller to pay medical bills, the seller refused, and nothing came of further against the seller. What would have happened if it went to court? If the seller lost and received a judgment against him, the seller could not afford to pay it anyway, so would not have been worth pursuing.

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Simple. If you INVITE them to prospect on your claim, you are in danger of being sued for injuries - accidents. I carried $5-million in Liability, had a very strong waiver, and trained my guys on the emergency and first aid procedures A waiver doesn't mean they can't sue, just helps in court

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Because you own the mineral rights with a claim, it would only be for things where you actually contributed to the hazard. If they fell into a hole - you'd be liable if you dug the hole. If they were bit by a rattlesnake - you'd be liable if you had released hundreds of rattlers on your claim. If they tripped - likely only of you created the tripping hazard.

Then of course someone can file suit over anything - but likely you would not lose unless you created or contributed to the hazard. Truth is that as a claim owner, you dont have the right to mitigate existing naturally occurring hazards without permission from the land owner - like BLM or USFS.

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Even if you win in court, you lose cash, time, and worry. That is what the insurance is for - court costs.

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Can you explain how to get this liability insurance? My only experience is with a civic organization for an event with about 100 people. To use a commercial property, we had to provide a certificate we carried $1 Million liability. Turns out with each person's registration fee, $2 goes to insurance and we had that much insurance which covered the event.

 

Seems like more than just calling up USAA.

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I recall the BLM sending me a letter a few years back regarding open but historic shafts on my claim ... They implied that if anyone fell in the 80 year old shafta I "could" be liable ... There is a couple shafts in a remote part and very hard to get to parts of my claim ... They are so obviously dangerous, I reckon I could counter-sue them for being stupid and stealing from me ... I've never had the cojones to get within 10' of the openings and just toss rocks to hear how long it takes to hit bottom... I made a deal with God long ago that I don't go into shafts and he keeps me from being so stupid to even think about it! ....Cheers, Unc

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So many different old maps out there also. Those shafts may be on one map and not on the other. I Found a couple of shafts that were not listed on the maps from the 60’s, but who knows if they were on the other ones. Markings on a map attracts people. “X” marks the spot. In the case of USGS maps, this means prospects, not treasure.

 

It’s interesting how some people actually think they’re not liable for their decisions and will try to make someone else liable for their mistakes. If someone doesn’t care about claim status to start with, a high grader, and there are indications of gold on a USGS map on your claim, I guess he’d go to that. Markings could be tailings, prospects, shafts, tunnels, old buildings, etc.

 

Common sense and justice tell me that we would not be liable for that, but my favorite lawyer, “Handle on the Law” who admits to giving marginal legal advice over the radio will tell you that justice and the legal system rarely see eye to eye.

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