Agritourism litigation around the U.S.

By:Peggy Kirk Hall, Attorney and Director, Agricultural & Resource Law Program Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

Agritourism has experienced significant growth in recent years, offering farm operators new revenue streams.  Hopefully, the recent pandemic won't hinder the growth of agritourism entrepreneurship.  Beyond COVID-19, however, there are other legal issues agritourism operators often face, and those issues can result in litigation.  We sought to identify how frequently agritourism litigation is occurring across the U.S., and what types of legal issues end up in litigation.  Our newest report for the National Agricultural Law Center, Recent Agritourism Litigation in the United States, shares the results of our research.

We categorized the agritourism lawsuits into two major categories:  land use and personal injury.  To our surprise, we identified more land use cases than personal injury cases.  Two potential explanations for this outcome are that many states across the country now have agritourism immunity laws that limit legal liability for personal injuries on agritourism operations and that personal injury cases are likely to involve insurance policies and settlements rather than litigation.  Land use cases, on the other hand, are more prevalent and center on regulatory issues such as zoning compliance and nuisance laws. 

Most clear from our research is the need for state and local governments to carefully understand and define the meaning of “agritourism,” for both personal injury and land use reasons.  The definition becomes quite important when determining whether immunity provisions protect an activity from liability for personal injuries.   The definition is also integral to assessing whether or how an agritourism activity is subject to land use laws.  Perhaps the most important result of our research is the confirmed realization that before proceeding with any “agritourism” activity, a farmer or rancher should take care to assess how state and local laws define that activity so as to reduce the risk of ending up in litigation.

The USDA’s National Agriculture Library funded our research, which we conducted in partnership with the National Agricultural Law Center.  Readers may access the report here.

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