Agritourism: Liability Considerations for Your Farm
Agritourism continues to grow in North Carolina, and across the country, with farm families implementing a wide range of events, activities, and educational opportunities on the farm. It can be a viable way to expand a farm operation. It also contributes to the local economy and helps educate more consumers on the importance, role, and work of farmers.
When welcoming visitors to your farm, there are several important considerations to help protect your family, your business, and visitors. Carolina Farm Credit Corporate Attorney Lee Cobb shares a few:
- Know the law. The North Carolina General Statutes address agritourism activity liability by including the definition it uses, along with what is considered agritourism, the inherent risks of agritourism activity, and what you must do on your farm.
- 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, including farming, ranching, historic, cultural, harvest-your-own activities, hunting, fishing, equestrian activities, or natural activities and attractions. An activity is an agritourism activity whether or not the participant paid to participate in the activity. “Agritourism activity” includes an activity involving any animal exhibition at an agricultural fair licensed by the Commissioner of Agriculture pursuant to G.S. 106-520-3.
- An agritourism professional is any person who is engaged in the business of providing one or more agritourism activities, whether or not for compensation.
- Inherent risks of agritourism are: “Those dangers or conditions that are an integral part of an agritourism activity including certain hazards, including surface and subsurface conditions, natural conditions of land, vegetation, and waters, the behavior of wild or domestic animals, and ordinary dangers of structures or equipment ordinarily used in farming and ranching operations. Inherent risks of agritourism activity also include the potential of a participant to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to injury to the participant or others, including failing to follow instructions given by the agritourism professional or failing to exercise reasonable caution while engaging in the agritourism activity.”
- Warning signs are required. Every agritourism professional must post and maintain signs that contain the warning notice specified in the statute. Directions are explicit. The sign must be placed in a clearly visible location at the entrance to the agritourism location and at the site of the agritourism activity. The warning notice must consist of a sign in black letters, with each letter to be a minimum of one inch in height.
- Use exact wording for the warning signs, per the statute: “WARNING: Under North Carolina law, there is no liability for an injury to or death of a participant in an agritourism activity conducted at this agritourism location if such injury or death results from the inherent risks of the agritourism activity. Inherent risks of agritourism activities include, among others, risks of injury inherent to land, equipment, and animals, as well as the potential for you to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to your injury or death. You are assuming the risk of participating in this agritourism activity.”
- Liability warning signs are available for purchase from the N.C. Agritourism Networking Association.
“North Carolina offers a liability limitation,” explains Lee. “In North Carolina, an agritourism professional is not going to be liable for injury to or death of a participant resulting from inherent risks of agritourism activities, as long as the warning contained in the statute is posted as required. Signs are incredibly important. If you don’t put up the sign you don’t get the benefit of the immunity for agritourism.”
- Understand liability beyond inherent risks. “While you get some immunity for those inherent risks, you don’t get immunity from every risk,” says Lee. “An agritourism professional would be liable if they commit an act or omission that constitutes willful or wanton disregard for the safety of the participant, and that act or omission proximately causes injury, damage, or death of the participant.” A few examples of wanton disregard that Lee shares:
- You have animals in pens for petting and you encourage participants to visit all the pens and pet the animals such as goats or sheep. In another pen may be a temperamental bull and you don’t have a sign that specifically tells people to avoid the bull pen. If people enter that pen and the bull charges, that would be considered wanton disregard.
- You have a hayride and you know the tailgate of the trailer doesn’t stay fastened, but you don’t warn the participants. A row of five children are lined up and leaning against it, looking up at the sky, and the tailgate pops open, dumping the children onto the ground and injuring them. That faulty tailgate could be costly in more ways than one.
- You are extremely responsible in your approach, but you have teenagers working for you and they are hosting other teenagers on a hayride when a fun wrestling match breaks out atop a trailer and a guest gets thrown overboard. Employees that work for you need to know the risks and consequences but, ultimately, you are responsible for what happens on your property.
Disclaimer: Nothing contained in this article is to be considered or construed as the rendering of legal advice for specific cases, and readers are responsible for obtaining such advice from their own legal counsel. Additionally, nothing in this article is to be considered as authoritative as to advice on the obtaining of insurance. Carolina Farm Credit, ACA is neither in the business of providing legal services nor selling insurance. This article is intended for educational and informational purposes only. The information here is limited to descriptions of the law of North Carolina. Every state is different and North Carolina law will not apply in other states. Each individual’s or entity’s operation is unique and each individual or entity interested in engaging in agritourism activities should obtain independent legal advice from a competent attorney licensed to practice law in their location. Additionally, laws change frequently and court cases can render prior general statements about the law inaccurate due to the passage of time. This blog post will not be updated and while information herein is believed to be accurate at the time of its writing, it may be outdated or inaccurate at the time of publication due to changes in the law. The only way to protect yourself from the risks described herein is to obtain independent legal counsel and to seek their advice concerning your contemplated operation.
By Leah Chester-Davis