A bill that would limit civil liability for farms that invite the public onto their property for agritourism activities, one of Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s top legislative priorities, has cleared the state House.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Barb Gleim of Cumberland County, would offer commonsense legal protection to farms that invite the public onto their property for agritourism activities, such as corn mazes, pick-your-own produce, hayrides, and similar attractions. Specifically, the bill would grant farms that offer agritourism activities reasonable protection from lawsuits that arise from circumstances beyond their control as long as they warn visitors of the inherent risks of being on a farm. At the same time, farmers would still need to take steps to ensure guest safety.
“We are thankful that the State House of Representatives agrees with Pennsylvania farmers that reforming civil liability for agritourism should be a top priority for the new legislative session, especially as we work to rebuild our economy following the COVID-19 pandemic,” PFB President Rick Ebert said. “For Pennsylvania agriculture to be preserved for generations to come, farmers need to be able to diversify their businesses, be innovative, and take advantage of market trends. Agritourism helps farms do just that by delivering what consumers increasingly want: Opportunities to connect with their food and make lasting memories on local farms. But the threat of frivolous lawsuits—and the related difficulty of insuring agritourism operations—remains a significant barrier for farms that want to begin or continue offering agritourism experiences.”
The legislation would protect farms from lawsuits in cases where no party is at fault if they warn visitors of potential risks by either having them sign a waiver or printing a disclaimer on a ticket or other material that’s given to visitors. The measure would not give farms a free pass from ensuring guest safety and farms could still be held accountable if they fail to fix or warn patrons of obvious and dangerous safety risks. The bill is modeled off similar laws already on the books in at least 20 other states, including New York and Ohio.
“Farmers make safety a top priority,” Ebert continued. “But farms are natural environments. Factors such as weather, uneven ground, and unpredictable animals make it impossible to eliminate every hazard, despite farmers’ best efforts. This commonsense reform would help farmers continue to safely invite the public to experience Pennsylvania agriculture and preserve their farms for future generations.”
Reforming civil liability for agritourism has been a longtime priority for PFB and other agriculture organizations. The measure passed the state House last fall with a bipartisan, 120-81 vote. It cleared the Senate after being amended into a separate bill related to COVID-19 but was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf. Wolf cited concerns about the COVID-19 measure as the reason for his veto and did not signal any objection to the agritourism bill.