Iowa Law Limits Liability of Agricultural Tourism Farms
On May 19th, 2021, Governor Reynolds signed SF 356 into law establishing the “Iowa Agricultural Tourism Promotion Act.” See Iowa Code § 673A et seq. Agricultural tourism is a growing industry in Iowa. In 2017, Iowa had 350 agri-tourism operations, an increase from 275 in 2012.[i] Because many of the inherent risks of farming cannot be removed, the Act promotes agricultural tourism by limiting the potential liability of agricultural tourism farms in certain circumstances.
Iowa Code chapter 673A provides a liability shield. A farmer, professional, or farm employee of an agricultural tourism farm is not liable if a farm tourist visiting the property suffered injury, death, or loss due to the “inherent risk of farming.” Iowa Code § 673A.4(1). A farm tourist does not include the farmer's employees or family members. The inherent risk of farming is defined as “a danger or hazard that is an integral part of being in a particular place on a farm or participating in a specific farming activity, if the danger or hazard would be reasonably foreseeable by a person generally familiar with that type of farm or farming activity.” Iowa Code § 673A.3(12).
The law also creates a contributory negligence standard. Generally, Iowa is a comparative fault state meaning that both the plaintiff and defendant are proportionally liable based on their percentage of fault. Iowa Code § 668.3. However, if the court finds that the injured plaintiff is more at fault than the defendant, he generally cannot recover damages.
Here, an agricultural tourism farm is not liable if the agricultural tourist contributed at all to the injury. Iowa Code § 673A.4(2). Additionally, the farm is not liable if the tourist did not comply with the farm’s reasonable verbal or written instructions or warnings, or the injury occurred in a place where a reasonable person would not enter as part of a visit to the agricultural tourism farm. Agri-tourism operators should post signage warning patrons if certain areas of the farm are not part of the visit.
Under the Act, an agricultural tourism farm may assert an affirmative defense as long as the farm provides proper notice of the inherent risk of farming to the agricultural tourist. Iowa Code § 673A.6. The law provides specific requirements of what constitutes proper notice. A sign must be in a noticeable location by the entrance of the property and state, in black letters, at least one-inch high. It must include the following information:
IOWA AGRICULTURAL TOURISM PROMOTION ACT
IOWA CODE CHAPTER 673A
You are visiting a working farm as a participant who is either observing or contributing to the success of farming activities. Under Iowa law you are assuming liability for any hazard that you may encounter. A hazard includes the inherent risk of participating in a farming activity or disregarding written or verbal instructions. Farming includes dangerous conditions present on land and in structures, unpredictable behavior of farm animals, dangers associated with the operation of equipment and machinery, and potential wrongful acts of another visitor. Be careful.
If the farm utilizes any waivers or contracts with a tourist, the same language must be included in twelve point boldface type.
The law does provide limitations on the liability protection. The liability shield does not apply if the injury was due to an illegal activity, intentional conduct, willful misconduct or gross negligence, intoxication, or if the agricultural tourism farm failed to notify a tourist of a dangerous condition of which the farm knew or should have known.
To qualify as a farm, the business must produce or process a farm commodity and generate at least $10,000 from the production of farm commodities. A farm could potentially include an orchard, winery, or butcher shop. Iowa Code § 673A.3(6)(b), 11(b). There is no minimum acreage requirement.
Iowa does have several similar laws in place. The recreational use statute limits the liability of landowners who allow the public to use their property for recreational purpose without charging a fee. Iowa Code § 461C.4. Conversely, the Agricultural Tourism Promotion Act may apply regardless of whether a person paid to enter the agricultural tourism farm. Then, Iowa Code chapter 673 limits the liability of livestock owners or professionals in limited situations. To receive protection, a domestic animal professional must also provide notice.
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