Agritourism bill leaves farms and ranches more exposed

A bill intended to increase protections for farms and ranches that allow tourists onto their property for an up-close look at real-life agriculture may actually increase exposure to lawsuits for working farms and ranches, an analysis by Colorado Civil Justice League indicates.

“I know the intentions behind this bill are noble, but the fact is that ordinary farms and ranches actually lose protections,” said CCJL executive director Mark Hillman, who also operates a farm on the Eastern Plains. “Let’s hope these shortcomings can be fixed, so the bill truly is helpful to agriculture.”

Under current law, farms and ranches that allow or invite visitors to watch or participate in ordinary activities related to agriculture are required to “exercise reasonable care” or to give a “warning of any dangers that are ordinarily present.”  HB 1280 removes the option to “exercise reasonable care.”

Worse still, HB 1280 then strips farms and ranches of any protection if they didn’t require visitors to sign a waiver of liability or didn’t post signs explaining the inherent risks.  Finally, the bill lowers the standard of care required from “willful or wanton” (i.e., purposeful and deliberate, intent to cause harm) to “reckless” (i.e., knew or should have known that actions were likely to cause harm).

Apart from these shortcomings, the bill makes some laudable improvements by stating that a participant in “agritourism” assumes the risk and responsibility for damages or injuries that occur.  Participants also are responsible for knowing their ability and limitations to participate in activities.  However, those improvements apply only to farms that post the required signs or require guests to sign waivers of liability.

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