As you may recall from several prior posts, the Texas Legislature passed several changes to the Texas Farm Animal Liability Act (FALA) that went into effect on September 1, 2021. To read more detail about the Farm Animal Liability Act and these changes, click here.
After fielding many questions from folks who just wanted basic information (and less of the legal detail that lawyers like me enjoy so much), I thought a quick frequently asked questions breakdown might be useful.
What is the FALA?
The Farm Animal Liability Act is a statutory defense available to farm animal owners when a plaintiff seeks damages–either to personal injury or property damage–under certain circumstances. The FALA basically says that an animal owner is not liable for injuries caused by an inherent risk of a farm animal activity. For example, say you let your friend ride your horse, and your friend falls off and gets injured. The Texas Farm Animal Liability Act could potentially be a defense that you could raise in order to get the lawsuit against you dismissed.
Whom does it protect?
The FALA is a defense where a “farm animal” injures a “participant” during a “farm animal activity” due to an “inherent risk” of that farm animal activity.
“Farm animal” is defined by the FALA as, “an equine animal; a bovine animal; a sheep or goat; a pig or hog; a ratite, including an ostrich, rhea, or emu; a chicken or other fowl; or a honeybee kept in a managed colony.”
A “participant” includes a person who engages in the farm animal activity, regardless of whether the person is an amateur or professional, whether the person pays or participates for free, and whether the person is an independent contractor or employee. Keep in mind, the Act can apply anywhere that a farm animal activity occurs, including farms, ranches, dairies, feedlots, stock shows, rodeos, etc.
When does it apply?
Again, the FALA is a defense where a “farm animal” injures a “participant” during a “farm animal activity” due to an “inherent risk” of that farm animal activity.
A “farm animal activity,” which has to be what the plaintiff was doing when the injury occurred, is broadly defined by the statute. To read the full definition, click here. Importantly for farm and ranch owners, a farm animal activity now expressly includes “owning, raising, boarding, or pasturing a farm animal, including daily care” and ” assisting in or conducting customary tasks on a farm concerning farm animals.”
An “inherent risk” is extremely broadly defined. To read the full definition, click here. The broadest description includes, “the propensity of a farm animal or livestock animal to behaving in ways that may result in personal injury or death to a person on the animal, handling the animal, or otherwise around the animal.” As you can see, this would likely apply to most farm animal injury situations.
Do keep in mind there are exceptions, and if a plaintiff can prove that an exception exists, the statutory liability protections may not apply. To read these exceptions, click here.
In summary, if a person involved in a farm animal activity is injured, and the injury is caused by an inherent risk of the activity, the statute will likely apply.
What steps need to be taken?
From a practical perspective, this is the most important thing for farm animal owners to understand. As of September 1, all farm animal professionals, farm or ranch owners, and farm or ranch lessees, must post and maintain a sign containing the following language:
UNDER TEXAS LAW (CHAPTER 87, CIVIL PRACTICE AND REMEDIES CODE), A FARM ANIMAL PROFESSIONAL OR FARM OWNER OR LESSEE IS NOT LIABLE FOR AN INJURY TO OR THE DEATH OF A PARTICIPANT IN FARM ANIMAL ACTIVITIES, INCLUDING AN EMPLOYEE OR INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR, RESULTING FROM THE INHERENT RISKS OF FARM ANIMAL ACTIVITIES.
Where should these signs be placed?
This is easily the most common question I have received.
The FALA provides that the sign must be placed in a “clearly visible location on or near the stable, corral, or arena” where the farm animal activities are conducted.
This is all of the information related to signage that the statute provides. Since there is no further detail in the statute, and since there is obviously no case law construing this new requirement for farm and ranch owners, we simply cannot definitively offer more information at this point.
What I have told many people is that I would err on the side of more signs if you feel it is necessary. If you have two sets of working pens or multiple barns, I would hang signs at each. Many people have asked about hanging a sign on their front gate to each pasture. That, too, seems like it would be a good idea in my mind. It may be prudent to just think through where people would commonly be or pass through on the facility and place a sign there.
Where can I purchase the signs?
You can make the signs yourself or have them made anywhere that will do so. Currently, I know that Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and Texas Farm Bureau are selling the signs through their online storefronts.
Why does all of this matter?
Simply put, you never know what could happen. Hopefully, you never need to have the FALA defense available to you, and there are no injuries or damage caused by farm animals you own. However, in the event that some injury or damage does occur, the FALA serves as an important potential legal defense for farm animal owners. Taking the time to hang the signs and ensure you at least have the option to raise this defense in the event damage or injury occurs is time and money well spent. The cost of the signs are a small prices to pay compared to the costs a person might face if the Farm Animal Liability Act defense does not apply.