Indiana Agricultural Display Liability – Agri-tourism
Encompassing things like farmer’s markets, antique tractor shows, U-Picks, farm tours, breweries, and wineries, agri-tourism offers just about something for everyone. In fact, agritourism makes up a big sector of the Indiana economy.
But what if while you’re out perusing an antique tractor show, you are seriously injured when the boiler on an old steam-powered tractor explodes? Can you sue for your injuries?
The answer, as we often say, depends. In 2011, the Indiana legislature passed a law giving limited liability protection to agritourism operators in Indiana. See IC 34-31-9 et seq.
Generally speaking, Agritourism operations are not liable for injuries and deaths that result from an inherent risk of agri-tourism activities. However, there are important exceptions.
But first, what qualifies as an agri-tourism activity?
The law defines an agri-tourism activity as any agricultural, horticultural, agribusiness operation, where the general public is allowed, or invited to participate, view, or enjoy the activities for recreation, entertainment, or educational purposes. It includes farming, ranching, historic and cultural agricultural activities, self-pick farms, and farmers markets. It includes activities involving an animal exhibit at an agricultural fair. It also includes natural resources-based activities, like hunting, fishing, hiking, trail, riding, camping, canoeing, kayaking, or tubing on a river.
The law defines ‘’inherent risks of agritourism activity’’ as ‘’conditions, dangerous, or hazards that are an integral part of an agri-tourism activity, including the following:
- surface & and subsurface conditions and natural conditions of land, vegetations, and waters.
- the behavior of wild or domestic animals.
- the ordinary dangers of structures or equipment when the structures or equipment are being used or stored by an agri-tourism provider in a manner and for a purpose for which a reasonable person should know the structures or equipment is intended.
- the negligent acts of a participant that may contribute to injury to the participant or others, including failing to follow instructions given by an agri-tourism provider, failing to exercise reasonable caution while engaging in the agri-tourism activity, or failing to obey written warnings or postings on the premises of the agri-tourism operation.’’ IC 34-31-9-4.
Suppose an injury occurs at an antique tractor show when a boiler on an antique steam-powered tractor explodes. Such an explosion could be said to be an ordinary risk of using a steam-powered engine. In such a case, the statute would protect the antique tractor-show operators from liability.
However, in order for agri-tourism operators to enjoy the benefits of this limited liability carve out in the law, the operator has to comply with very specific rules on signs that must be posted and warning notices that must be given to participants.
Operators must either post a sign or obtain a signed release from a participant, including exact verbiage, set forth in the statute that states:
“WARNING. Under Indiana law, an agri-tourism provider is not liable for an injury to, or the death of, a participant in agri-tourism activities at this location, if the death or injury results from the inherent risk of agri-tourism activity. Inherent risk of agri-tourism activities include risk of injury inherent to land, equipment, and animals as well as the potential for you to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to your injury or death, or for other participants to act in a manner that may cause you injury or cause your death. You are assuming the risk of participating in this agri-tourism activity.’’ IC 34-31-9-14.
If the operator has not complied with the legal signage requirements or hasn’t put this notice language in a signed release, the statute will not block an injured participant from successfully suing the operator.
Some other exceptions to the limited liability statutory carve out for the agri-tourism industry, include if the operator has actual knowledge or reasonably should have known about a dangerous condition on the land, facilities, or equipment used in the agricultural activity, or has actual knowledge or reasonably should have known about the dangerous propensity of a particular animal used in the activity and does not make the danger known to the participant and that danger causes the participant’s injury or death, then the operator can be held liable.
If the agritourism operator fails to properly train or inadequately trains its employees, and an employee’s actions or inactions cause the participant’s injury or death, then the operator can be held liable.
If the agri-tourism operator’s actions or inactions constitute willful, or wanton disregard for the safety of a participant and cause the participant’s injury or death, then the operator can be held liable.
Lastly, if the agri-tourism operator intentionally injures a participant, then the operator can be held liable.