In the blink of an eye tragedy can strike. Whether it’s an employee or trespasser, accidental injury or death could mean months and years of legal hurdles for the farm. Use winter down time to prepare your farm, just in case the worst happens.
If you don’t have the right insurance coverage on-farm it could mean you lose some—or all—of your assets if the victim or victim’s family takes legal action. There are differences in your assumed responsibility depending on who is hurt and your knowledge of the hazard—make sure you’re covered.
“If you have someone get hurt or killed it’s not pleasant to think about, but one of the first calls you need to make is to an attorney,” says John Dillard Farm Journal legal columnist. “If it’s an employee make sure it’s an attorney who is comfortable representing worker safety lawsuits.”
There’s a difference in process depending on who gets hurt on the farm—if it’s employees versus neighbors or trespassers. Here are a few things you need to know about either injury.
In the case of an employee’s death, even if your farm doesn’t employ enough people to be subject to Occupational Safety and Health Association standards, similar state-level agencies will likely send inspectors after an on-farm accident. They’ll take statements from you and other employees that can be used against you for a citation, Dillard says.
But what happens when someone trespasses on your property and gets hurt? After all, it’s not your fault they did something illegal.
“Do you maintain liability if someone trespasses?” asks Jim Schrier, partner at Reiling, Teder and Schrier LLC. “Generally, no, but it depends on the situation, but there are no requirements to put up signs that say no trespassing or beware of equipment.”
However, you can get in trouble if you know people trespass and don’t warn them of a potential hazard.
“Let’s say you’re digging a hole for something and put a tarp over it at night,” Dillard says. “If you know someone is likely to trespass it’s a good idea to mark it to let people know there is a danger there. You don’t have to get rid of hazards, you just need to make people aware of them.”
“It’s frustrating to have to do this because it’s your property and they’re breaking the law,” Dillard adds. “But that’s how the legal system works—it’s nothing new and something you have to manage for.”
Work ahead today to be more than prepared in case of an accident. If someone does get hurt on the farm, you’ll want more than just a good lawyer—you’ll need good insurance, too.
“The No. 1 thing farmers need to be mindful of is that insurance coverage shouldn’t be limited to just your net worth or assets,” Schrier says. “For example, the farm might be world one million, but your liability could be five million. The extent of coverage should be commensurate with the level of risk.”
It’s also important to reevaluate how your business operates—is it an LLC, corporation? Those designations could protect your personal assets. In addition, you can separate certain parts of the business to isolate risk, Schrier says. For example, you could put the trucking arm of your business into an LLC so if an accident occurs the rest of your operation will probably be safe.