If a landowner creates a situation that is inherently dangerous, they face the tougher standard of strict liability. Agricultural operations must deal with this when raising aggressive animals (bulls, dairy bulls especially) or storing caustic or flammable chemicals such as fertilizer.
Recreational use is a question that many states have answered in different ways. This allows landowners to avoid liability for injury caused when a guest participates in a potentially hazardous recreational activity on their land. These statutes are designed to protect landowners when their land is open to the public for recreational use such as hiking, fishing, water sports, hunting, or other outdoors activities. The land does not need to be open at all times and the landowner is allowed to restrict access, but the more restrictions the more likely it is that a court will deem an injury not covered by the recreational use statute. In Iowa, a very specific list of items are considered covered by the statute and those that stray do so at their own peril.
Several other factors can cause a landowner to forfeit protection, including the acceptance of money for use of the land or the intentional causing of injury.
Landowners can be held liable for nuisances which unreasonably interfere with other landowners' use or enjoyment of their property. A private nuisance only damages a small number of neighbors, while a public nuisance affects the community as a whole. Courts often use a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether a nuisance is unreasonable. These issues are becoming more and more important to farmers as urban development reaches into their areas. Many states have passed right-to-farm statutes to protect farmers from nuisance suits, but these cases are often difficult to decide even when the farmer's operations are legal and in full compliance.
Landowners can also be found liable for trespass when activities on their land physically interfere with other landowners' property rights. This can include loose livestock, odors, or groundwater contamination.
Agricultural landowners can also be found liable for environmental violations. State and federal laws such as the Endangered Species Act or the Clean Air or Water Acts govern the use of pesticides and land usage. Farmers can also be found liable when their operations interfere with neighboring farms' production methods. An example of this might be when a farmer's pesticide drifts onto a neighboring farm's organic fields, causing the loss of organic certification.
The wide variety of liability issues can be confusing, but liability is a vital part of operating a large agricultural operation. You should consult an attorney with experience in liability law if you have any questions about your operations.
If you would like to schedule a initial consultation contact an Iowa Ag attorney, representing clients in Elkader, Iowa at the Dillon Law P.C. Give us a call at (563) 578-1850 or complete our inquiry form.