ALBANY — “New York Farm Bureau is extremely pleased that the New York State Legislature passed legislation (S.1152-A/A.559-A) that will provide inherent risk reform for agritourism businesses,” said New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher. “This bill has been a top priority for our organization, as it should begin to offer relief to the excessive costs of liability insurance for diverse agricultural operations throughout the state.”
The legislation establishes limited liability protections for the inherent risks of inviting the public onto farm business property by clarifying the duties and responsibilities of those who operate agritourism businesses as well as their visitors.
Agricultural tourism includes hiking, farm and winery tours and equine therapy in addition to farms offering pick your own Christmas trees, apples and berries. According to Fisher, “New York’s litigious environment has diminished the number of insurance carriers willing to cover equine establishments and agricultural tourism operations, while dramatically increasing the cost for liability coverage. This legislation now brings New York’s inherent risk law in line with nearly every other state in the country.”
If signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the bill would add a new article 18-B under General Obligations Law requiring those who operate agritourism businesses to post and maintain signage clarifying what spaces are open to the visiting public and “adequately” train employees. They would also be required to make visitors aware at the time of purchase of any risks inherent in the activities offered, and to “imprint upon all tickets sold or distributed, such text and graphics as the Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets shall specify.” Visitors would also have to be made aware of the new law at points of purchase, and the fact that it confers certain duties upon them, namely: to comply with signage; to follow posted safety information and rules of conduct; and to refrain from removing, damaging or altering any signage on the property. Business owners would also be required to provide safety education or written instruction to visitors and provide refunds in the event that they deem the activity too risky.
“It is important to note that the legislation will not provide New York farms with blanket immunity from responsibility,” said Fisher. “Instead, it will offer owners some protection from lawsuits by an individual who is taking no responsibility for his or her own actions while visiting a farm or equine facility.
“The bipartisan legislation will hopefully assist farmers looking to have a better handle on business costs in a competitive marketplace. The significance of that support cannot be understated. Agritourism is important to both the economy and lifestyle of rural communities. The benefits it offers consumers include access to local products and recreational opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors.”