Poultry growers learn from Agriculture Law Education Initiative

Staff Reporter

CENTREVILLE, Md. (May 27, 2014) — No farm is completely isolated. Paul Goeringer and Will Pons, members of the Agriculture Law Education Initiative, talked to poultry growers May 13 about the three different types of potential farm visitors and their rights and responsibilities by law.
Pons explained that a trespasser, a licensee and an invitee all have different privileges on the farm.
“You can never eliminate all of your liability but you can greatly limit your exposure and potential costs,” Pons said.
Growers from Maryland and Delaware participated in the open discussion about the “Legal Aspects of Commercial Poultry Farming.”
The meeting was a collaboration between University of Maryland Extension, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and the College of Agriculture & Natural Resources, University of Maryland, College Park.
It covered numerous legal issues that impact commercial poultry operations. 
Topics included liability for third parties on the farm and risk management strategies.
Goeringer said in certain situations livestock owners might be responsible for the personal injuries caused by their livestock and other sometimes complex risks can start “the instant a third party walks on your farm.”
The best risk management strategy is something many growers do not want to do.
“Virtually every lawyer will tell you if you had just come to me as you started I could have helped you avoid the problem,” Goeringer said.
Each state is a bit different in exact terminology, so check with a lawyer, Pons said. Essentially, Pons explained, “an invitee is a person on the premises for a purpose related to the property owner’s business (like a catch crew member).”
The property owner owes the “highest duty of care” to an invitee. Duty of care is the duty to use “reasonable and ordinary care” to keep the premises safe and to protect the invitee from injury caused by “unreasonable risk” that the invitee might not discover on his or her own (i.e. if you know something’s broken before the catch crew is coming, fix it).
“There have never been any suits,” said Goeringer. “The companies usually have workers’ compensation.”
Pons said a licensee by invitation is considered a social guest of the property owner.
The duty owed to a licensee by invitation is the duty to “exercise reasonable care to warn the guest of dangerous conditions” that the property owner is aware of, but that are not easily discoverable by the licensee (For example: “We’re putting some windbreaks in. There are holes over there. Don’t step in them”).
A bare licensee is a person who is on the premises with the owner’s permission, but solely for his or her own purposes.
The property owner owes no duty to a bare licensee except to “refrain from willful or wanton misconduct” that may injure the bare licensee, and to “refrain from creating new sources of danger” without providing warning to the licensee (“Sure, you can hunt on my property with your license this weekend. Please, park beside the barn. I’ll give you a call if I decide to move something on that path to the stand,” for example).
A trespasser is defined as a person who, without the property owner’s consent, intentionally enters upon the property.
A property owner owes no duty to a trespasser except to “refrain from willful or wanton misconduct” that may injure or entrap the trespasser (such as a man walks out into the field while you’re on the tractor to tell you that he doesn’t like the smell of manure. Get his name and if he’s persistent, call the police. Do not harm him yourself).
Pons said no one could predict every risk on the farm.
There are tools, like insurance and caution signs, to deal with foreseeable issues.
“Be willing to work with your neighbors,” said Goeringer. “It’s a great way to avoid litigation.”
Goeringer and Pons agreed that ag education was key and keeping the community informed on farm practices would help minimize risk.
“Keep good records,” Goeringer said. He said the first thing an attorney will ask for is a copy of the records.
“There is no way to limit 100 percent of legal risks,” Goeringer said. “The most you can hope to do is develop strategies that make your life easier if you are taken to court.”