2017 Solar Eclipse & Nebraska Agritourism Liability

Path of the moon's shadow across Nebraska on August 21, 2017.  Image courtesy of NASA.
Path of the moon's shadow across Nebraska on August 21, 2017. Image courtesy of NASA.

By Dave Aiken, UNL Extension Water & Agricultural Law Specialist

Thousands of tourists are expected to visit Nebraska to view the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse. Rural landowners may be opening up their land to visitors for camping and eclipse viewing. Landowners have legal protection against tourist personal injury liability if they do not charge a fee to campers or eclipse viewers. If they do charge a fee, they must meet 2015 Nebraska agritourism legal requirements in order to reduce their injury liability risk.

WHY IS AGRITOURISM LIABILITY IMPORTANT? Property owners may be liable for damages resulting from injuries occurring on their property. A common example would be a slip and fall lawsuit against a retail store. This “premises liability” is not limited to business premises, however it basically extends to all property, including farm and ranch land.

SO IF SOMEONE COMES ONTO MY PROPERTY, OR INTO MY HOME, AND IS ACCIDENTLY HURT, I COULD BE LIABLE? That’s right! Not automatically liable but certainly potentially liable.

AND IF I AM A FARMER OR RANCHER AND SOMEONE COMES ONTO MY PROPERTY TO CAMP AND WATCH THE ECLIPSE, I COULD BE LIABLE FOR INJURIES THEN AS WELL? Yes, although a 1965 Nebraska statute limits your liability if you don’t charge the campers or eclipse viewers a fee.

BUT IF I DO CHARGE A FEE, THEN I COULD BE LIABLE IF A CAMPER OR ECLIPSE VIEWER GETS HURT! Correct, and that’s a good example of why the 2015 Nebraska agritourism law was adopted.

SO HOW DO NEBRASKA LANDOWNERS GET THIS LIMITED AGRITOURISM LIABILITY PROTECTION? You must post your property with the specified agritourism liability signs, and include the same language in any agritourism activity contract, like a camping lease.

IS THAT ALL? No: the landowner must also (1) exercise reasonable care to guard against unusual dangers associated with the property, (2) maintain the property, facilities and equipment, (3) train and properly supervise any employees, and (4) comply with any related state or local legal requirements (e.g. capping an abandoned well).

ARE THERE OTHER LEGAL OPTIONS? Yes–another common option is a written liability waiver. You can get more information about these topics–including the specific language required for the agritourism liability sign and suggested written liability waiver language--from a recent UNL study of Nebraska agritourism liability at this link: http://go.unl.edu/8fb3. The study itself can be accessed here: http://go.unl.edu/a28t.

FINAL THOUGHTS? You should contact your insurance agent regarding whether your current liability insurance will cover any eclipse-related incidents. Your attorney can advise you regarding agritourism liability, agritourism leases, and agritourism liability waivers.