Thursday, January 14, 2016

Liability bill would protect local agritourism

Agritourism is a critical part of the Niagara County economy. Local farms and food and beverage producers with open doors and experiential activities bring to our rural communities hundreds of thousands of visitors ever year who spend millions of dollars to buy their products, see their processes and spend some time down on the farm. In the county limits, we have seventeen wineries, close to twenty Christmas tree farms, a corn maze, dozens of u-pick stands, and the incredibly-popular Becker Farms, a veritable agricultural theme park.

Those farmers and vintners aren’t the only folks who benefit from the traffic. Countless other business -- like restaurants, gas stations and hotels -- benefit from those who are experiencing the bounty of the Niagara Frontier. Plus, we taxpayers pay less in property taxes because of the sales tax revenues that come from all of those transactions.

All of that being said, we need to make sure that we have a political/economic environment that allows all of those ag businesses to succeed and not face unnecessary financial struggles.  It’s crucial to all of us.

Enter Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner. This year, the Democrat from Round Lake is introducing the Agritourism and Farm Animal Activity Liability Act. The act would be similar to laws on the books in 26 other states that clearly indicate that those who visit farms assume inherent risks. While case law in the Empire State does afford farmers some protection, the limits have never been defined in statutes.

Woerner’s proposal would most closely mirror Tennessee’s standards, which state that there is no liability for an injury to a participant in an agritourism activity conducted at an agritourism location if such injury results from the inherent risks of the agritourism activity. Under Tennessee law, inherent risks of agritourism activities include those attributable to lands, equipment, and animals, as well as the potential for the participant to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to injury or death.

Some examples of what could occur in anyone of the local settings: a dad cutting down a Christmas tree could run his chainsaw into his leg; someone could get kicked by a horse; a drunk twenty-something could jump off of a hay ride; a child feeding a goat can have his hand bit by the beast; an individual picking corn could wrench his back picking up his bushel; someone picking apples could fall off an a-frame ladder.

I could go on and on, but those are just a few of many events that could occur. “Could” is the key word. They aren’t likely to occur (agritourism is safe), but there’s always the chance – visitors come in contact with equipment, animals, heavy produce and more. Anyone with a semblance of reason can see that there are risks associated with them. Woerner’s bill recognizes that and clarifies that you are assuming the risk of participating in any agritourism activity.

If you would like to see this sort of common sense protection afforded to the local farms and wineries who keep our economy going (and provide positive memories to locals and world travelers alike), take the time to write a letter to your assemblyperson and state senator asking them to support Woerner’s bill. Otherwise, there’s always the chance – especially in our insanely litigious society – that one of your neighbors could lose his farm to the misbehavior or unsafe practices of one of his customers.

From the 18 January 2016 Greater Niagara Newspapers

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