Like it or loathe it, we live in a litigious society where no-win-no-fee solicitors will scrap to win hefty payouts for clients. Shooting accidents used to be dealt with out of court, with a fixed payout for the injured party, depending on the severity of the incident. Nowadays, you will end up in the sights of marksmen lawyers. Heaven help you if you are found liable for an accident without insurance.

Third party

The varied shooting organisations each offer an insurance package that will cover you if you shoot someone else in the field. BASC provides

a policy with its membership that is FSAaccredited, processing 70 claims a year with an average settlement of £7,000. “When accidents happen, the costs quickly mount up,” explained David Ilsley, head of sales and marketing at the association. “You could be paying for their legal bills and your own, as well as the compensation satisfaction on top. There was a recent case in which a young lad discharged a barrel into a keeper’s backside, with the result that the keeper could no longer walk.

The victim had to be paid for lost earnings, but also a new bungalow in which he could reach specially fitted light switches, as well as a new vehicle. “Fortunately, the lad was a BASC member. If he hadn’t been insured he’d have been cleaned out. Also, it would have meant that the keeper would not have received the compensation he needed. You don’t want that on your conscience. Anyone who doesn’t shoot with insurance is no better than the young joyriding hoodlums.”

Employer’s liability

It is illegal to employ anyone without insurance. “Ignorance is no defence,” stated Andrew Payne of insurers NFU Mutual. “It is important to remember, too, that you are still deemed an employer whether you have a paid keeper, beater, picker-up or loader; or whether it is a part-time shoot at which you give thehelpers a few brace of pheasants at the end of the day. If the estate is deemed negligent, then it can be sued.”

Public liability

Public insurance is optional, but any shoot is taking a seriousrisk by resisting it. It is not just ramblers and dog-walkers who can sue if injured, but shooting guests also count as members of the public, so the estate can be liable for their safety, too.”It is prudent to get public liability insurance,” said Rupert Wailes-Fairbairn, from rural insurers Lycetts. “If a stray pellet removes a passer-by’s eye, or a falling pheasant lands on a car or conservatory, it can get expensive.”

A typical policy might protect the estate for up to £10million of damages. Negligence can be difficult to prove, added Rupert. “If there is a rotten plank on a bridge, the estate might be liable,” he said, “but a slippery stone in a river would be deemed a natural hazard. If a keeper forgets to blow his whistle at the end of a drive and a beater is shot, the estate might be negligent.”

Gundog insurance

An estate is not liable for an accident to a dog, should it chase a bird on to a road or fall off a bridge, as the onus is on the owner to insure the dog. “There are plenty of pet insurers on the market, so it pays to shop around,” said David, who also markets dog insurance with BASC.

The NFU Mutual retriever policy would insure a three-year-old Labrador for £1,000 if it died or became incapable of work. The comprehensive £460 annual premium would also cover vets’ bills up to £2,000.

Insure your guns

It is prudent to insure valuable guns against fire and theft. This tends to be an addition to the home and contents policy, as you might for

jewellery. Andrew recommends valuing guns with your local expert on a regular basis, as it is much easier to do so before the loss than after.

Shoot cancellations

Larger commercial shoots will often take out pluvial insurance against cancellations caused by the weather. “This year we provided apolicy for a gentleman who wanted cover from bird fl u for a £35,000 day,” said Rupert. “But we have fewer calls for cover against anti-shooting disruptions than we did at the start of the decade.”

Rupert also highlighted a need to cover against material damage, including loss of poults. “As long as the birds are lost before they are released into the wild, then they can be included in the farm or estate’s livestock policy. We paid out £37,000 this summer for a shoot that had all its birds washed away when a beck broke its banks in a freak storm.” 