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Agritourism Liability

Fall has arrived, and with that comes fun weekend activities at your local farm! This month’s blog post is about agritourism and what you need to know as a visitor and a farm owner.

What is agritourism?

Agritourism, or as it is sometimes called, agritainment, has gained popularity over the past decade, and allows members of the public to see and participate in agriculture. The surge in popularity is largely due to farmers looking to increase farm profits and diversify their activities, but non-farmers have become more involved and interested in agriculture as well, especially with recent movements like farm-to-table and eating local.

Common agritourism activities include corn mazes, hayrides, u-pick, and farm tours. There are many other possibilities as well, including weddings and dinners, showing that farmers attract individuals through fun, educational activities for all ages. For more information on agritourism, check out this video published by the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

For some, agritourism is such a large part of the community that it is advertised on the county website.

Nearby Butler County is just one example of a county proudly embracing its agriculture sector. Other farms turn a day visit into a weekend adventure and offer farm vacations! Pennsylvania has a number of farms that specialize in farm stays, including opportunities to learn about fruits, vegetables, livestock, and grains. Find a farm near you for your next vacation!

Agritourism Liability

An unfortunate side effect of agritourism, however, is what happens if someone is hurt while visiting a farm. Unlike some other states, such as New York and Virginia, Pennsylvania does not have specific legislation governing agritourism and landowner liability. Therefore, Pennsylvania tort law is applicable. Tort law provides relief, or damages, to an individual that has been injured by the acts of another person.

In tort law, a landowner may be liable for injury if there is a duty owed to the injured individual. Thus, the relationship between the landowner and the individual on the farm is critical because it determines the standard of duty owed by the landowner. Pennsylvania generally has three types of landowner-individual relationships with a standard of duty associated with each. These are: trespasser, licensee, and invitee.

  • Trespassers are individuals that are not invited onto the property and have entered illegally. Landowners generally have no duty to make the land safe for trespassers.

  • Licensees are individuals who are allowed on the property because the landowner has given permission, but the property is not open to the general public. Rather, a licensee is a social guest of the landowner. Landowners have the duty to warn licensees of any dangerous conditions on the land.

  • There are two types of invitees, a public invitee and a business visitor. A public invitee is an individual who is invited onto the property that is open to the public for a specified purpose. A business visitor is an individual who is invited onto the property that is open to the public for a specified purpose and engages in business with the landowner.

Farm owners are most concerned about business invitees because they open their property to the public and often charge a fee for activities. Invitees also have the highest standard of duty among the three relationships between landowners and individuals. Generally, landowners will be liable for any injury on their property if (1) they knew or should have known of any danger on the property that involves an unreasonable risk of harm, (2) should expect the invitee to not realize the danger, or will fail to protect themselves against it, and (3) failed to exercise reasonable care to protect the invitee against the danger.

Thus, a landowner has the duty to protect invitees from non-obvious, dangerous conditions on the property and must either eliminate the danger or warn the invitee of the danger. Failure to do so may result in the landowner being liable for an injury. If a danger is obvious to the invitee, then the landowner will not be liable for injury as long as the landowner does not anticipate any harm resulting from the danger.

Landowners may also be liable for the accidental, negligent, or intentional action of a third-party individual or animal if the landowner did not take reasonable measures to discover the danger, warn invitees of the danger, or protect the invitees from the danger.

While the potential risks may seem intimidating, the suggestions and tips below help protect everyone while still enjoying the day on the farm!

What do you need to know as a visitor?

Taking the family to pick pumpkins and going on a hayride is a fun activity, but there are a few things to remember when you visit a farm. First and foremost, you are visiting a working farm, meaning there are other ongoing farm activities. That leads us to our first tip - dress appropriately! Wear closed-toed shoes with good tread and an outfit suitable for your activities.

Second, be aware of your surroundings and watch your children at all times. Third, there are inherent risks to being on a farm, so it is recommended you follow all rules and signs posted on the premise as they are for your safety and the safety of the farmers, farm staff, and other visitors.

And finally, if there is an incident, make sure you notify a staff member as soon as possible. But most importantly, have fun! Farms offer these activities because farmers want to share their love and passion for agriculture with their community.

What do you need to know as a farm owner?

Farm owners can limit their risk by creating standard procedures for all employees and customers to follow. Rules may be general, including “no smoking”, “no running”, “stay on the paths and in designated areas”, and “children must be supervised at all times.” Other rules may be specific to the activity, including “keep hands and feet inside the wagon at all times”, “no climbing on the hay bales”, “do not pick the corn in the maze”, and “no climbing on the pumpkins.”

Implementing general safety measures on the farm is another great way to limit liability. Having a daily check-list for employees to limit potential hazards helps to keep everyone safe and help provide a defense to any claims. Ultimately, farm owners want to warn their customers of any known or potential dangers on their farm, eliminate the dangers when possible, and ensure the farm is properly maintained on a daily basis. If you are a farm owner participating in agritourism, it is suggested you speak with an attorney to learn how to best limit your liability on your specific farm, as each farm has unique activities and different needs.

Is there insurance for agritourism activities?

Yes! It is best to speak with an insurance agent about different coverage options, as agritourism activities are typically not included in a general farm insurance policy. However, agritourism insurance policies generally cover medical costs should the farm owner be found liable for injury, as well as property damages.

Spending the day at a nearby farm is enjoyable for the whole family (the Trellis Legal team certainly loves a good farm visit!) and the above tips will help keep everyone safe while still having a fun-filled day. Happy Fall!

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