“Agritourism” is a new term for the intersection of adventure tourism and agriculture. According to the State of Colorado – a traveler’s interaction with farmers, ranchers, hunters, artists, naturalists and food enthusiasts that leads to the discovery of geographically distinctive experience, food and drink. According to a recent US Census of Agriculture, the number of agricultural producers who take part in agritourism activities has grown to about 900 in Colorado alone, contributing some $30 million to farm income and a total economic impact of over $2 billion annually in the state. The state actively promotes agritourism with an eye toward rural economic development through activities as diverse as farm and ranch stays, farm-to-table dinners, winery tours and the like.
To help spur development of the industry, in 2014 Colorado passed legislation limiting the liability of farmers and ranchers in activities related to “agriculture recreation activities”, i.e. agritourism. Colorado statute 13-21-121 provides that an agritourism operator cannot be held civilly liable for the injury or death of a participant resulting from the inherent risks of the activity and that the participants of such activities assume the risk and legal responsibility for any injuries arising from such inherent risks. “Inherent risks” include dangers and conditions such as equipment complexity and malfunction, location, ground conditions, weather, animal behavior, negligence of other participants, and more. Importantly, the law does not protect agritourism operators from their own gross negligence or willful or wanton disregard for the safety of the participant, intentional misconduct, or for their knowing use of faulty equipment.
The law also requires operators to exercise reasonable care to protect against known dangers, to give warning of dangers ordinarily present on the property and to provide notice of inherent risks through a statement signed by participants or through prominent placement of signs that contain statutorily required wording.
Because the law is so new, we expect that litigation will arise over time to define its specific boundaries. While the law is a welcome step in addressing liability, of agritourism operators, operators need to be diligent in their compliance to ensure their protection is maximized.