NEW INDIANA LAW LIMITS LIABILITY FOR AGRITOURISM ACTIVITIES
by Bob Kraft,
Over the past several years, there has been a significant growth in the interest of non-farmers in farming and other rural activities. And rural property owners have been quick to cater to that increased interest by providing opportunities for their city and suburban neighbors to visit the country and participate in activities that come to be called “agritourism.”
Much of the charm and attraction of agritourism comes from the fact it is provided by real people who have a vested interest in making it attractive and enjoyable. But these are the people who can least risk their life’s savings on a venture that could bankrupt them if an accident or injury occurred to one of their guests. As more rural citizens began to consider the opportunities presented by agritourism, the more it became apparent that their concern over their potential liability was preventing them from moving forward.
Indiana Farm Bureau recognized this and, in early 2011, approached newly elected State Representative Randy Frye of Greensburg to see if he would be interested in authoring legislation that would limit the liability of agritourism providers. Rep. Frye quickly grasped the importance of the agritourism industry in rural districts and was happy to introduce the agritourism liability bill. Working with Farm Bureau and State Senator Brent Steele of Bedford who sponsored the bill in the Senate, the legislation, which is one of the most comprehensive such laws in the country, was quickly enacted and signed by Governor Mitch Daniels.
The new law, which is now in effect, basically provides that the participant in an agritourism activity assumes the risk of injury or death which is inherent in the activity he elects to participate. An agritourism activity is any activity carried out on a farm or ranch that allows members of the general public, for recreational, entertainment, or educational purposes, to view or enjoy rural activities. This list includes but is not limited to: farming, ranching, historic, cultural agricultural activities, self-pick farms, farmers’ markets, animal exhibition at fairs, hunting, fishing, hiking, and trail riding.
If you receive compensation from the participant in an agritourism activity on your property, to be receive liabililty protections under the new law you must post a warning sign and place the warning notice in any contracts signed by a participant. The warning sign is to be posted at the main point of entrance to your facility. If you don’t have a main entrance, it is probably best to use the contract method. Requiring a participant to sign a waiver with the required warning notice, which uses the exact statutory language from the warning sign, will serve the same purpose as the posted sign.
The rationale behind this law is that you, as a property owner, should not be responsible for injury to someone who undertakes an activity on your property with full knowledge of the risk involved. While the law establishes minimum requirements, it makes good sense to exceed these requirements by posting more signs that required and getting participants to accept the risk in writing. This is a good practice even if you are not charging your visitors.
The specific dimensions and warning language of the signs is spelled out in the law. You can make your own sign if it conforms to the specified standards. Farm Bureau provides signs to its members who provide agritourism opportunities to the public.
The state’s agritourism law can be found on the state’s website at www.in.gov/legislative/ic/code/title34/ar31/ch9.html. Remember, the law will not prevent you being sued nor does it mean that you do not need liability insurance. It does mean that if you are sued and you have followed the requirements of the law, you have a much better chance of successfully defending yourself.
Indiana Farm Bureau strongly recommends that you consult with both your attorney and your liability insurance provider to make sure you are adequately protected before you open your property to agritourism visitors.
Bob Kraft is the Director of State Government Relations for Indiana Farm Bureau