The Texas Legislature has passed and Governor Abbott has signed House Bill 365 (HB 365), which will make important changes to the Texas Farm Animal Liability Act (FALA) effective as of September 1, 2021. Here’s how those changes affect McGreen Acres and other homesteads around the state.
In Texas, the FALA is a statute, as it was written when it passed in 1995, that offers limited liability to farm animal owners if someone was hurt by farm activities, specifically for equine facilities. For example, if someone was to ride a horse on a farm, there is always the chance that that person would get knocked off or even bucked off. In this case the FALA would protect the horse owner from being liable for the incident. In 2011, this was expanded to all farm animals as they were defined during that time. Now it’s been expanded upon again.
As we don’t own horses for various reasons, several of the aspects of this bill hadn’t applied to our situation. Now there are many changes, particularly as a result of HB 365. Here’s a quick summary of the changes
Farm Owners or Lessees are More Protected
By the verbiage of the previous statute, farm owners were protected by law from liability for participants of farm activities. However, in Waak v. Rodriguez, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that if the “participant” that was injured was a “rancher or ranch hand”, that the protections the FALA provided to farm owners didn’t apply. (read about that decision)
Given that, the new verbiage includes this though. The new text is bolded.
Engages in a farm animal activity" means riding, handling, training, driving, loading, unloading, feeding, vaccinating, exercising, weaning, transporting, producing, herding, corralling, branding, or dehorning of, assisting in or providing health management activities for, assisting in the medical treatment of, being a passenger on, or assisting a participant or sponsor with a farm animal. The term includes management of a show involving farm animals and engagement in routine or customary activities on a farm to handle and manage farm animals. The term does not include being a spectator at a farm animal activity unless the spectator is in an unauthorized area and in immediate proximity to the farm animal activity. Id. § 87.001(1).
That said, you may be worried that this means more poor treatment to the work hands, but labor laws haven’t changed and employees are still afforded those same protections.
Sec. 87.0021. CERTAIN LABOR LAWS NOT AFFECTED. Nothing in this chapter affects the applicability of Chapter 406, Labor Code,or an employer's ability to refuse to subscribe to the workers' compensation system.
Generalization of Activities
In the past, the bill was geared toward “Liability Arising from Farm Animal Activities or Livestock Shows” to “Liability Arising from Farm Animals.” While we are on the subject of definitions, "Farm" means any real estate, land area, facility, or ranch used wholly or partly for raising, cultivating, propagating, fattening, grazing, or any other farming, livestock, agricultural, apicultural, or aquacultural operation. Id. § 87.001(2-a). This is in addition to the definition as stated above which include a lot of the daily duties that are the going-ons on the farm instead of just event based verbiage.
“Farm Animal” Gained New Meaning
The new definition for “farm animal” is
- 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.
That last one is a new one. Under the old statute, people would be in their rights to hold us accountable for anything that happened to them while they were on our property and they could prove that they were injured by our bees. Obviously, we have home and ranch insurance to help when we do have visitors, but this has always been a fear with the rising subdivisions growing around our homestead.
Additionally, in Kaufman county, it is possible to get an agricultural tax deduction for maintaining a bee farm, thus encouraging them as a “farm animal.” Therefore, this makes the description across laws more consistent, which in itself is a big win.
Signage is Required
You will now see signs on our property that contain the statutory language Id. § 87.005.
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.
I hope yall can see where we are excited about the new developments as HB 365 makes important changes to the Texas Farm Animal Liability Act. Sure we have a little extra work to do to hang signs in visible places throughout the property, but being able to worry a little less about allowing others onto the homestead and the legal implications that could cause is important.