A recent ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court left farmers who hosted field trips on their land open to liability in the case of injury, potentially compromising important farm outreach efforts in that vital agricultural state.
The case in question resulted from an injury suffered by an Iowa chaperone who broke her wrist when she fell through a hayloft during a local kindergarten class’ field trip to a Fayette County dairy farm. The woman’s lawsuit was thrown out by a county judge, who ruled that the farmer was protected by a 1967 law that protects landowners who open up their property for recreational activities. An Iowa Court of Appeals upheld the recreational activities law, but ruled that the farm could still be sued for neglecting their duties as tour guides.
The Iowa Supreme Court, however, reversed both courts, arguing that the recreation protection law only applies to outdoor activities. An injury from feeding a calf outdoors would be covered, justices argued, but “frolicking in a hayloft” would not be.
The ruling may have broad implications. Farm outreach and agritourism have both become important elements in local farm economies. The ability to connect with local consumers, as well as the ability to make some extra money through farm tourism, have both helped many small producers stay in business. Removing liability for outreach activities could halt many such programs, increasing the gap between producers and consumers and hurting the long-term viability of many farmers.
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer