The campaign to enact civil liability reform for Pennsylvania farms that invite the public to engage in agritourism activities has officially started in the new legislative session.
State Rep. Barb Gleim has introduced House Bill 101, which would grant agritourism operations commonsense protection from lawsuits over factors beyond their control. The measure is the same as the agritourism bill that made historic progress in the General Assembly last fall.
Ensuring commonsense legal protections for agritourism has long been among the top legislative priorities for Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, which worked closely with Gleim to develop the proposal based on similar laws already on the books in neighboring states.
Agritourism gives many farms an opportunity to tap into growing consumer interest in local agriculture as a way to diversify their operations and remain viable for the future. But the threat of frivolous lawsuits remains a significant barrier for farmers that want to invite the public onto their property.
House Bill 101 would give agritourism operations immunity from lawsuits where no one is at fault as long as they notify visitors of the inherent risks of being on a farm, such as uneven ground, unpredictable animals, and weather-related issues. Farmers would still be responsible for making reasonable efforts to ensure guest safety and could still be held responsible in cases of extreme negligence or failing to address obvious safety hazards.
Momentum is behind the effort following its historic push through the General Assembly last session.
The measure passed the state House last fall with a bipartisan, 120-81 vote, marking the first time agritourism civil liability reform has made it through either chamber of the General Assembly. In the Senate, the language of the agritourism bill was amended into separate legislation dealing with liability over COVID-19. That measure passed the Senate and then the House.
Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed the bill, citing concerns about the other parts of the legislation related to COVID-19. The governor did not express any qualms with the agritourism measure, signaling that were the agritourism bill to pass on its own, it would likely become law.
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau is advocating for lawmakers to make the agritourism measure a top priority this session so that farmers can more effectively use agritourism as a tool to diversify their businesses and grow rural Pennsylvania’s economy.