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Farmers who host field trips are liable, Iowa court rules

Article all you farmland owners better read, relates to hunting and other fun activities on your land if you invite friends to say pheasant hunt on your land as I do. I have a large umbrella insurance policy in the millions of dollars on my farm operation, but after reading this, I don't know. Article is below;

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Farmers who host field trips are liable, Iowa court rules

Owners of a Fayette County farm were sued by a woman who fell through a hayloft

Iowa farmers who open their operations to indoor tours aren’t protected by a law that shields them from injuries to hunters, snowmobilers and other outdoor sports enthusiasts, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The opinion could raise qualms among farmers and could jeopardize the availability of agricultural field trips around the state.

Iowa farmers have “a long history with working with the schools and tourism groups and international visitors,” said Laurie Johns, public relations manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau, which had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. Friday’s ruling “makes them sit back and wonder what the next step should be.”

Friday’s split opinion came in a 2010 negligence lawsuit filed by Kimberly Sallee, who served as a chaperone during a visit by her daughter’s kindergarten class at Sacred Heart School to a Fayette County dairy farm owned by Matthew and Diana Stewart.

Sallee, described in court papers as “a very large woman,” broke her wrist and her leg when she fell through a hay drop in a hayloft where the Stewarts allowed children to play. The drop, essentially a hole used to drop hay to animals below, was covered by hay bales that had been tested by Matthew Stewart before children arrived. However, the hay bale covering one opening gave way when Sallee stood on it.

A Fayette County judge threw out Sallee’s lawsuit on the grounds that the Stewarts were protected by a 1967 law that shields Iowa landowners from most liability concerns if they open their property up to recreational activities. The Iowa Court of Appeals agreed that the landowners were shielded by the recreational law, but said the Stewarts could still be sued based on allegations that they acted improperly in their capacity as tour guides.

A majority of justices on Friday disagreed with both courts, ruling that Sallee’s injury had nothing to do with a “recreational use” but that she nevertheless had failed to present any evidence of “a triable issue of willful or malicious conduct.”

A 48-page opinion authored by Justice Brent Appel reasoned that Iowa’s recreational use law was intended to promote outdoor activities.

Horseback riding and “nature study” — the kindergartners’ activities included feeding a calf — may have been covered by the law, Appel writes. But “it is difficult to characterize frolicking in a hayloft as part of a guided tour of an improved barn on a dairy farm as nature study within the meaning of the statute. Accordingly, the district court erred to the extent it held that Sallee was engaged in nature study at the time of her injury.”

Justice David Wiggins argued in a concurring opinion that the Stewarts, while not protected by the recreational law, should still be subject to trial under other grounds.

Meanwhile, a dissenting opinion by Justices Edward Mansfield and Thomas Waterman argued that jumping into hay should be considered a sport, and that their colleagues’ ruling “misses the essential point: Our recreational use law protects farmers who want to open up their farm properties so others can play there for free. At least it did so until today.”

A spokeswoman for the Iowa Association of School Boards said that group hasn’t yet had time to analyze what the ruling will mean for Iowa field trips.

A spokesman for the Des Moines district said city schools, for now, will seek field trips the way they always have.