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2016-02-04

Lege adds new law to limit agritourism liability

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

In its last session, the Texas Legislature gave landowners active in agritourism another tool to limit their liability. The Texas Agritourism Act, carried as Senate Bill 610 and now codified as Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Chapter 75A offers landowners important protections.
The Agritourism Act joins with earlier legislation, the Farm Animal Liability Act, and the Recreational Use Statute, to lessen liability for property owners who invite tourists onto their land for various activities.
Basically, the act states that "an agritourism entity is not liable for any agritourism participant injuries if one of the following two options are met: (1) required signage is posted; or (2) a release including required language is obtained."
The act provides the exact wording of the required signage and the required release which must be signed by each visitor to be valid.
The farm animal liability act and the recreational use statute also require the posting of certain signage and/or releases.
The statute's broad definitions of "agricultural land," and "recreational activity" cover a lot of operations, from nature tours, to participation in farm and ranch activities, to camping. The protection applies to persons injured while hunting on property.
Experts say it's important to comply with both requirements if possible.
A summary of the act states, "the signs could be useful if additional persons are on the property who did not sign the waiver form. For example, if your neighbor signs the required release form but then brings his wife along to hunt, the signs would be very important if the wife were injured and had not signed the form. On the other hand, the wavier form specifically states that it applies to minors, whereas the signs do not. The most prudent course would, obviously, be to have both signs and the signed document."
None of the laws offer unlimited protection and may not prevent a landowner from being sued. There are exceptions to the protection. If the landowner knew of a dangerous condition and failed to take proper precautions, an injured person could certainly sue.
Therefore, it is important that all landowners participating in agritourism businesses have liability insurance that covers the specific activities on the land.
Recreational agritourism activities can include hunting, fishing, swimming, camping, hiking, nature study such as bird watching, bicycling, dog walking, cave exploration, radio controlled flying and off road vehicle driving.
The Farm Animals Liability Act was first passed in 1995 and applied only to horses. However, the act has been amended since to apply to all farm animals. It is important for all farm and equine animals owners, as well as anyone sponsoring a livestock or horse show or event, as it may offer limited liability if a person is injured during a farm animal activity.