Q&A on 2017 Solar Eclipse and Nebraska Agritourism Liability

Figure 1. NASA map shows the path and viewing times for the August 21 eclipse as it passes over Nebraska.

Q&A on 2017 Solar Eclipse and Nebraska Agritourism Liability July 27, 2017

As thousands of tourists are expected to visit Nebraska to view the August 21 solar eclipse, some rural landowners may be planning to open up their land for camping and eclipse viewing. If you're one of these landowners, you may want to brush up on potential liability issues.

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.

The landowner also must

  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 this study in a recent University of Nebraska news release, Great Plains' ecotourism initiative produces liability study, and can get specific language required for the agritourism liability sign and suggested written liability waiver language in a report on the study, Rural Landowner Liability for Recreational Activities in Nebraska, by Anthony Schutz.

In summary, 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 atritourism liability waivers.