Agritourism and pick-your-own farm operations: Injuries resulting from agriculture-related injuries
Aside from rules governing livestock generally (see our page on animal injuries), Georgia law provides special protections for those injured during "agritourism" activities, making these types of claims more difficult, and sometimes impossible, to pursue. But in some cases, the exceptions to immunity may enable an injured person to make a personal injury claim.
The Georgia Code (OCGA §§ 48-5-7.4 and 51-3-31) defines agritourism as follows:
"the term “agritourism” means charging admission for persons to visit, view, or participate in the operation of a farm or dairy or production of farm or dairy products for entertainment or educational purposes or selling farm or dairy products to persons who visit such farm or dairy..."
As provided by Georgia law, an operator of an agritourism activity who charges for admission "shall be immune from civil liability for any injuries caused by the inherent risk associated with agritourism. . . ." Thus, if the statute applies, the landowner or operator of the business cannot generally be liable for injuries caused by the operation. This rule, however, is subject to certain exceptions. First, it only applies to those 18 years of age or older. Second, the immunity does not apply if the owner or operator's acts constitute "gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct." This means that the injury cannot be caused by an action by the owner/operator that is either intentional or is so reckless that it is essentially an intentional act. Finally, it requires a written, statutory notice sign to be posted prominently at the property, and a written waiver signed by the participant, with the same notice as the sign, stating that
"Under Georgia law, there is no liability for an injury or death of a participant at least 18 years of age in a registered agritourism activity conducted at this registered agritourism location if such injury or death results from the inherent risks of such agritourism activity. Inherent risks of agritourism activities include, but shall not be limited to, the potential of you to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to your injury or death and the potential of another participant to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to your injury or death. You are assuming the risk of participating in this registered agritourism activity."
An additional set of Georgia laws specifically provides for landowner or operator immunity in cases of a pick-your-own farming operation, such as a fruit orchard or Christmas tree farm. Under OCGA § 2-14-152, this immunity applies to the inherent risks (including falls) connected with the activities, but unlike agritourism immunity it is not limited to participants 18 and over. It does, however, include exceptions, like agritourism immunity, for "willful or wanton" acts of the operator. And as with agritourism immunity, signs notifying participants of the immunity must be placed prominently on such properties, but the failure to have the warning signs does not prevent the operator from asserting the immunity.
In many cases, both the agritourism and pick-your-own immunities may apply to the same activities or operations. But because the requirements and immunities provided may differ, certain activities at a location may be subject to one immunity but not the other. Therefore, it is important to carefully investigate any incident or injury arising out of these activities to determine which, if any, immunity applies, and whether any of the exceptions may be applicable.