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ALEI Resources Can Assist Farmers With Legal Risk Management

By Jess Feldman

Agricultural liability is the responsibility Maryland farmers have under the law. It involves complying with existing laws and regulations as well as potential civil claims or “torts” that can arise.  While agriculture liability is a continuing issue for farmers, with assistance from the Agriculture Law Education Initiative (ALEI), farmers can be better prepared for various forms of potential lawsuits.

Maryland’s Right-to-Farm (RTF) law protects agricultural operations ranging from grain, produce, dairy, poultry, traditional forestry actions or commercial seafood operations, with a strong defense to nuisance suits. Extension Legal Specialist and ALEI member Paul Goeringer and Dr. Lori Lynch of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics created a fact sheet in 2017 to assist Maryland facing such lawsuits from nonfarm neighbors. The fact sheet, Understanding Agricultural Liability: Maryland’s Right-to-Farm Law Can Limit Liability for Maryland Farm, Commercial Fishing, and Seafood Operators, shows that if a farmer or waterman demonstrates “use of good agricultural or commercial fishing practices,” he or she can defeat a claim regardless of whether it is true. Such a defendant would win the case if they are in compliance with Maryland RTF regulations, provided the agricultural operation had been in business for at least 365 days. Even if this standard is met and good farming practices are used, farmers must be aware of how to manage and mitigate potential suits.

The fact sheet also lists who to contact when faced with a lawsuit, the general definitions farmers should know, and how to maintain strong neighbor relationships.

In addition to the fact sheet, ALEI provides risk management workshops covering topics ranging from drift liability, liability for grazing and livestock operations, agritourism, to people getting hurt on an individual’s property.

For more information on how to limit the legal risk of your operation, please contact Paul Goeringer at lgoeringer@umd.edu or Dr. Lori Lynch at llynch@umd.edu. For additional resources, see the ALEI publications library at: http://umaglaw.org/publications-library/.

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