Farmer Beware: Agriculture Enters Age Of Civil Suits


By Chris Bennett, Farm Journal, Technology and Issues Editor

via AgWeb - January 3, 2018


Welcome to farming’s litigious age. When physical injury occurs in agriculture, the loss often leads directly to a courtroom. While producer eyes are quick to focus on the fine print and penalties of OSHA regulations, sledgehammer civil suits approach from the blind side, capable of swallowing an operation whole.


Mirroring the U.S. mainstream, agriculture has entered an era of litigation and legal wrangling. Lawsuits against farmers once were a rarity. Yet, today’s producer is often popularly perceived as a wealthy, land-rich businessman with substantial assets. As civil cases stack up in farm country, the plain truth is difficult to ignore: The factors surrounding liability can preserve a given operation or shred a legacy to the deepest roots.


Losing the farm


Bill Field is on the witness stand again. He’s testified in 120 agriculture-related cases involving disputes and tragedies of all stripes. Field, a professor of agricultural health and safety at Purdue University, has repeatedly seen the bitter fruit of civil suits: decimated farms and destroyed lives. “Farmers often don’t recognize that society has changed rapidly. Some of these settlements climb into the millions. When somebody gets hurt on a farm, they don’t fight, but they sue and the lawyer involved is coming for every penny possible,” says Field, who also serves as director of AgrAbility.


“Producers are typically worried about $10,000 OSHA fines, but I just worked with a farmer who paid his maximum umbrella policy on a death case of $1 million. Immediately after the settlement, his insurance company dropped him,” Field adds...


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