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New law protects agritourism in New York state

November 10, 2017
By GLYNIS HART - For the News ( , Lake Placid News

A new law Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed on Oct. 23 promises to lighten the liability burden on "U-pick" farms, cut-your-own Christmas tree farms, corn mazes and equine businesses.

The Agritourism and Equine Businesses Inherent Risk law, co-sponsored by state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, resembles similar laws in Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont. In those states, farms open to the public have "Inherent Risk" signs posted on their buildings that say, for instance, "Warning: Under Vermont law an equine sponsor or professional shall not be responsible for an injury to or the death of a participant resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities."

Little said, "It creates a better legislative environment for when people open up their farms to the public. Their liability is the same as if you open up your land for recreation."

Melissa Monty-Provost, whose Country Dreams Farm in Plattsburgh provides winter sleigh rides at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site in Lake Placid, said she'd been fighting for this law for years. She's a member of the New York Farm Bureau, which has been promoting the law for two decades - until now, without success. She said the governor signed the law into being at the 11th hour, and it came as a big relief.

"All in all, this is a great thing for New York farmers," said Monty-Provost. "It was a huge liability for us. Our insurance is crazy; it's very, very expensive."

Country Dreams Farm is open to the public.

"We do sleigh rides; we do wagon rides; we have a corn maze," said Monty-Provost. "I've always believed you make your farm as safe as you can, but in the back of our mind we're always worrying about being sued.

"Unfortunately, today, the general public no longer knows how to behave around animals. Before this, if a visitor came to your farm and did something crazy, like go over a fence and get in the field with the animals, and they got hurt, they could sue you. But I believe we would be remiss as a society if we didn't allow our children - adults, too, but especially children - to see how a farm operates.

"We would do things in Vermont with horses, and every time you entered the premises there was this sign up saying you assumed that risk.

"You would see this signage all over the farm, and you would think, 'Oh, this is my own stupid fault; I shouldn't have worn stilettos to pick pumpkins.'"

The New York Farm Bureau released a statement calling the law "a major victory for farms across the state" and a "new line of defense against frivolous lawsuits" for agricultural tourism and outdoor recreation activities, including winery tours, maple syrup operations and Christmas tree farms.

"Until now, New York's litigious environment had diminished the number of insurance carriers willing to cover these businesses, while dramatically increasing the cost of liability coverage. Many farmers have had to turn down opportunities to invite the public onto their farm because they could not find or afford the liability insurance necessary to host these opportunities in this state."

According to NYFB, the new law doesn't give farm owners blanket immunity, requiring them to put safety measures in place and take reasonable care to reduce risks to visitors. The law is designed to protect farm owners from lawsuits by people who are not taking responsibility for their own actions.

"Farmers should not be at fault for a lack of due care by customers engaging in inherently risky activities or situations over which the farmer has no control," the NYFB statement said. "For example, customers should assume that there is some natural, inherent risk for riding a horse or climbing an apple tree and act accordingly to avoid injury."

Tucker Farms in Gabriels, home of the Great Adirondack Corn Maze, has been hosting farm tours for local school children since the 1970s, as well as welcoming the public to pick pumpkins.

"I think it's a good law," said Thomas Tucker. "Anything to protect the farmers."



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