Tuesday, April 10, 2012

LePage signs insurance relief bill for agritourism businesses ...

AUGUSTA, Maine ? Gov. Paul LePage on Monday signed a new law that protects farmers, beekeepers and others in Maine?s agritourism industry from liability.

LD 1605 provides limited protection for landowners as long as they post signs stating that visitors accept the ?inherent risks? of any activity associated with their business.

This doesn?t mean landowners do not have to buy insurance to protect visitors, it just means anyone who files a lawsuit claiming injury must demonstrate more than just an inherent risk.

Maine already has similar statutes for activities such as skiing and horseback riding.

?This new law will help reduce the burden of insurance on local farmers,? said the bill?s sponsor, Rep. Aaron Libby, R-Waterboro. ?In the short term, the farmer will be provided with assurance that they have some protection from a major lawsuit due to a farm-related accident. In the long term, with fewer claims filed, premiums should decrease, there will be less chance of a policy denial and more options will be made available.?

Some common examples of agritourism in Maine include choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms, maple syrup sugarhouse tours, pick-your-own fruit and vegetable farms, animal parks, corn mazes and cider-making operations.

Libby?s family runs a pick-your-own fruit farm and he said at least 23 states have enacted laws to address agritourism businesses. He said data suggest that agritourism is much more significant for small farms, accounting for 50 percent of farm income for farms whose total income is in the $50,000-$249,000 range.

Since agritourism has become popular so quickly, few insurers are familiar with or are willing to underwrite the operations.

?Farmers may not know they need additional insurance,? Libby said. ?Most farm and ranch insurance policies are intended to cover risks associated with everyday farming exposure.?

LD 1605 had bipartisan support and many members of the Legislature?s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee were on hand Monday for the bill signing, as was Agriculture Commissioner Walter Whitcomb.

?This legislation expands opportunities in Maine agriculture, especially for young farmers,? Whitcomb said. ?Clearly stated liability and assumption of risks gives this emerging sector of Maine agriculture the green light.?

Follow BDN reporter Eric Russell on Twitter @BDNPolitics.

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