August 31, 2014

Giving immunity to agritourism providers

Protecting farmers and other agri-tourism operations from being sued.

Have you been to a pumpkin patch? An apple orchard? Strawberry field? Corn maze? Winery? How about breakfast on the farm? Been maple syrup sipping? Christmas tree cutting? Then, you support Wisconsin’s agri-tourism industry.

Representative Lee Nerison says, “Agriculture and tourism and two of our top economic engines in Wisconsin so it only makes sense that the two combine in what we call agritourism.”

The Westby Republican wants to provide agricultural tourism providers limited immunity from civil liability for the death or injury to visitors. Nerison says there’s an inherent risk in the area of agriculture and unpredictable behavior of farm animals, such as a cow stepping on one’s foot. Agri-tourism providers are concerned about being sued, Nerison says, simply for carrying out their day-to-day operations.

AUDIO: :43 Steve Peterson is president of Wisconsin Agricultural Tourism Association. He says agri-tourism provides a valuable experience for people. “We felt that the liability issues were still that big thing, that elephant in the room, that the farmers had to put up with.”

Nerison’s legislation does not extend immunity to civil liability for injury or death if warning signs are not posted or if there was a blatant disregard for safety.

Several people testified at a public hearing last week at the Capitol during a Senate committee on agriculture, small business, and tourism. The full Assembly approved the bill last month.

Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Association for Justice is against more immunity laws in the state.