Pa. bill to shield farmers from 'agritainment' related litigation advances to full House

By Jon Campisi | Jun 6, 2013

The state House Judiciary Committee this week advanced a measure designed to partially shield farmers engaged in so-called “agritainment” from civil liability.

The House Republican Caucus announced the June 4 committee passage of House Bill 397, which provides for limited immunity from civil litigation for those who sponsor agritainment activities, which can range from corn mazes and hay rides to farm tours and pick-your-own produce events.

Farmers have recently been finding alternative uses for their land in the growing industry known as agritainment, which refers to tourism-related, recreational or educational activities taking place on farmland across the commonwealth, State Rep. Mark Keller wrote back on Jan. 14 in a memo to his fellow House members announcing his proposal.

The legislator, a Republican who represents Perry and Franklin counties in south-central Pennsylvania, said that because many activities involved in the agritainment business are not typically covered under traditional farm liability policies, farmers often find themselves facing challenges in securing adequate insurance coverage.

“Under current Pennsylvania law, these entrepreneurial farmers face enormous liability risks when opening up their land to the public,” Keller had written in his January memorandum.  “Agritainment activities involve inherent risk that are impossible to eliminate. It is only reasonable that those who choose to participate in these activities should voluntarily assume part of that risk.”

Keller said his bill is designed to shield landowners from lawsuits in situations where no party is at fault when it comes to injuries or damages.

While the proposed legislation provides immunity from suit in some instances, it still preserves the right for people to sue an agricultural property owner in cases involving gross negligence, displays of willful or reckless disregard for the safety of the participant, or in cases where the activity taking place intentionally causes a potential plaintiff’s injury.

On Jan. 29 the measure was referred to the judiciary committee, of which Keller is a member, according to online legislative records.

Records further show that the bill has 26 co-sponsors.

In a statement, Keller hailed the bill’s advancement to the full House as a step in the right direction.

“Many traditional family farmers in Pennsylvania are finding it difficult to keep up with the increasing costs of their business,” the lawmaker stated. “My bill would give them the option of supplementing their income by operating an agritainment activity without the fear of being hit with an expensive and frivolous lawsuit that resulted from opening up their land to the public.”

The bill has the support of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

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