By Bill Evans, JD1
1Alabama Beekeepers’ Association & Alabama Master Beekeeper
In the last few years, many people have embraced agritourism as a method to educate the public about agriculture. Activities like navigating a corn maze, picking fruit, feeding animals, or visiting a bee yard (aka an apiary) are popular kinds of agritourism activities. They provide people the opportunity to experience something new and to learn about where their food comes from. Agritourism also includes selling products to the public on someone’s owned or leased land, or at communal events such as farmers’ markets.
Unfortunately, injuries can sometimes occur when the public experiences agricultural activities. As a result, industry leaders saw the need for a statute to protect individuals managing agritourism operations against lawsuits when they are not at fault.
Today, nearly half of our nation’s states have laws that protect agritourism operators in such circumstances. Alabama joined their ranks in 2012, with unanimous passage of the Alabama Agritourism Statute, codified at Section 6-5-347 (http://alisondb.legislature.state.al.us/alison/codeofalabama/1975/6-5-347.htm).
Our law was written with help of Alabama beekeepers Lionel Evans and Bill Mullins, both of whom serve on ALFA’s Bee and Honey Producers Division. Their goal was to protect Alabama beekeepers, although the statute as a whole does far more. ALFA, with its insurance business and its roots in Alabama agriculture, was an early and strong supporter. In fact, ALFA created the first agritourism warning signs for their insurance customers. ALFA Insurance certainly understood the great advantage of a simple sign protecting their customers from liability claims!
Under Alabama law, “an agritourism professional is not liable for injury, sickness, or damage to, or the death of, a participant in an agritourism activity at this location if the injury, sickness, damage, or death results from the inherent risks of the agritourism activity”. BUT, this only applies if a sign complying with the code is properly posted ‘’…in a clearly visible location at the main point of entrance to or the place of payment of monetary or other valuable compensation for the agritourism activity.” It must have the correct words, with each character at least one inch in height (Fig. 1). That’s right, the sign is your bulletproof vest!
Fig. 1. The agritourism sign produced by the Alabama Beekeepers’ Association that complies with Alabama law. Note that each character is >1 inch in height. Photo: E. Muehlenfeld.
The first question you might have is: “Am I considered an agritourism professional?”
– Yes, if you are involved in an “agritourism activity.”
That’s how lawyers talk …in circles.
Your second question might be: “What is an agritourism activity?”
– The law states that it is an activity at an agricultural operation. More circles… but it does give examples, such as farming, ranching, historic and cultural agricultural activities, self-pick farms, or farmers’ markets.
Other parts of the statute make it clear that it also applies to beekeeping. For example, the law protects against liability from “inherent risks”. That means that certain things are an “integral part” of an agritourism activity, including without limitation “the behavior of wild animals or insects.”
In other words, honey bees sting people. Sometimes they frighten people without stinging them. Sometimes they fly into someone’s mouth or nose that results in panicked behavior in people that THEN results in injury. It’s in the nature of honey bees to do that.
With the proper warning signs, you are not liable if honey bees do what honey bees do.
I encourage you to read the law in its entirety, perhaps talk to your insurance agent and/or attorney, and post the required warning signs!
This blog supports the activities of a USDA NIFA Crop Protection and Pest Management grant