NYFB, NYTB applaud passage of limited liability legislation for New York farms

Thursday, June 15th, 2017

By Sarah Mace

The New York Farm Bureau (NYFB) and NYTB, in its capacity as an active member of the NYFB Equine Committee, are celebrating a legislative victory for farmers and breeders.

NYFB and NYTB have long made it a priority to secure relief for farmers and equine businesses from rising insurance premiums due to uncertainty about potential liability for activity that takes place on farms. The groups have been seeking a remedy in legislation to establish limited liability protections for the inherent risks of inviting the public onto farm business properties.

The New York Legislature has just passed a bipartisan bill to do just that. Following the Assembly’s passage of the bill (A00559A) on June 8, which sponsored by Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, the State Senate approved a matching bill on June 13, 2017 (S01152-A), which was sponsored by Senator Robert Ortt. The next stop for the legislation is the Governor’s desk, where it is hoped the bill will be signed into law.

The short title of the bill is the “safety in agricultural tourism act.” Recognizing that “agritourism is an important and growing sector of the rural economies in New York State,” the bill’s justification is that “the cost of liability insurance for farms with agritourism activities is becoming prohibitive, particularly for small farms.”

The bill creates explicit and uniform standards for farm owners and farm visitors which remove uncertainties about potential liability. Among the variety of activities cited in the legislation, such as u-pick Christmas trees, hiking, hunting, production of maple sap and winery tours, the bill expressly mentions “equine activities both indoors and outdoors.” “Equine therapy” is excluded.

If the bill is signed into law, farm owners and operators will have certain stated responsibilities, including posting conspicuous notices and written information warning visitors about the inherent risks of participating in activities on their working farms. Visitors must also be alerted to their own “responsibility to exercise reasonable care regarding the disclosed risks of the agricultural activity.”

In an NYFB Press Release dated June 14, 2017, NYFB President David Fisher offered the caveat that “the legislation will not provide New York farms with blanket immunity from responsibility. 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.”

According to Fisher, “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.”

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