ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently signed legislation that will amend state law regarding agritourism, clarifying the legal responsibilities for both farm operators and visitors.
This legislation establishes limited liability protections for the inherent risks of inviting the public onto a farming operation.
Agricultural tourism and outdoor recreation activities that include horseback riding, u-pick Christmas trees and fruit orchards, along with tours of wineries and maple operations, all now have a new line of defense against frivolous lawsuits.
Until now, New York’s litigious environment had diminished the number of insurance carriers willing to cover these businesses, while dramatically increasing the cost of liability coverage, according to New York Farm Burea.
The bill passed both houses of the state legislature earlier this year with a near unanimous vote.
“Farmers can now focus on providing family friendly and educational activities without fear of being sued out of existence,” said Tom Stebbins, executive director of Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York.
Many farmers have had to turn down opportunities to invite the public onto their farm because they could not find or afford the liability insurance necessary to host agritourism events.
Under the legislation, farms must have proper signage to delineate pathways and buildings open to the public, adequately train employees involved in agritourism, take reasonable care to prevent foreseeable risks and post warnings to visitors about inherent risks of participating in activities on working farms.
The new law does not give New York farms blanket immunity from responsibility. Instead, it will protect owners from lawsuits by an individual who is taking no responsibility for his or her own actions.
The law provides that farmers should not be at fault for a lack of due-care by customers engaging in inherently risky activities or situations over which the farmer has no control.
For example, customers should assume that there is some natural, inherent risk for riding a horse or climbing an apple tree and act accordingly to avoid injury.
“For too long, farmers had to choose between higher insurance costs or closing off their businesses to the general public that is eager to experience life outdoors on a farm,” said David Fisher, New York Farm Bureau president. “Now that we have crossed the finish line, we are hopeful business costs will reflect the reduced liability our farmers now have.”
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