Reed: Liability for injuries caused by farm or ranch animals

Sandra W. Reed
Special to the Reporter

Wilson recently began cattle raising on the family ranch, hiring one hand to assist in this endeavor. He and his adult daughter employ one trainer in their horse-riding school conducted on the property.

Wilson is concerned about liability if a farm animal should harm one of the workers. The total payroll for these workers is $20,000.

Sandra Reed

Liability arising from Farm Animals Act

The 2021 Texas Legislature amended Chapter 87 of the Texas Practices and Remedies Code, effective as of Sept. 1, 2021, expanding the scope of “engaging in a farm animal activity” and offering substantial protection against liability for injuries caused to people by farm animals. To obtain the protections, the animal owner must post prominently a sign that reads:

WARNING

UNDER TEXAS LAW (CHAPTER 87, CIVIL PRACTICE AND REMEDIES CODE), A FARM ANIMAL PROFESSIONAL OR FARM OWNER OR LESSEE IS NOT LIABLE FOR AN INURY 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.

Limits to the exemption from liability

Under the amended law, a person operating one of the animal activities covered by the act may still be liable for injury if (1) the warning sign set out above is not properly posted; (2) the warning does not contain the warning language required by the law; (3) the person knowingly provides faulty equipment or tack; (4) the person did not make a reasonable and prudent effort to determine the ability of the participant to safely engage in the activity; (5) the person willfully and wantonly disregarded the safety of the participant.

Worker’s Compensation Insurance may still be crucial

The new law intersects with The Texas Worker’s Compensation Act (TWCA), which  was not amended. Farmers and ranchers who have three or more workers who are not seasonal or migrant workers or those whose payrolls exceed the statutory amounts set out in the TWCA (currently $25,000) might still have a difficult time defending themselves. If the farm or ranch operations are covered by the TWCA and an injured employee sues, employers who fail to carry Worker’s Compensation Insurance cannot raise defenses of contributory negligence, assumption of the risk, or the wrongful acts of another employee.

The operations carried on by Wilson and his daughter fall outside the parameters that would require them to carry Worker’s Compensation insurance. Therefore, they are not prohibited from raising the defenses listed above even if they don’t cover their workers. However, they may find it wiser to purchase this protection even with the broader protections afforded by the Liability Arising from Farm Animals Act because of the expense of proving themselves not liable in a lawsuit.

Sandra W. Reed practices Elder Law in Somervell County, handling probating of estates, drafting of wills, trusts, powers of attorney and deeds as well as estate and Medicaid planning.  She lives on beautiful Chalk Mountain and can be reached at 254.797.0211; 817.946.2809 or at sreed@kbzlaw.com.