On June 4, 2021, Governor Abbott signed House Bill 365, which modified the Farm Animal Liability Act (FALA) to ensure that it does apply to working ranches and in situations involving injured ranchers and ranch hands, among other changes. All ranch owners should pay careful attention to the changes which modify the scope of application of the Act and require additional steps to be taken by ranch owners to include posting signs on your farm or ranch.
FALA is a statute offering limited liability to farm and ranch animal owners if injuries are caused by the inherent risk of farm/ranch animal activity (i.e., when penning cattle by horseback there is an inherent risk of getting bucked off). FALA was originally passed in 1995 and amended in 2011.
In 2020, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in Waak v. Rodriguez, a case involving the movement of a bull on a ranch, that FALA was inapplicable to ranch owners or ranch hands. The Court interpreted FALA to only be applicable to situations such as “shows, rides, exhibitions, competitions and the like.” Representative Andrew Murr introduced HB 365 to ensure FALA would be applicable to working ranches and farms where a rancher or ranch hand could be harmed.
The meaning of “farm” in HB 365 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.” The meaning of “farm animal activity” will now also include owning, raising, transporting, or pasturing a farm animal. Similarly, the definition also includes assisting in or providing animal health management activities, including vaccines, assisting in or conducting customary tasks on a farm or ranch concerning farm animals and transporting or moving a farm animal.
One of the most important changes for farm and ranch owners to be aware of has to do with the requirement that a sign be hung for farm animal professionals. “Farm animal professionals” is defined as persons engaged for compensation in providing nonmedical care or treatment to farm animals, assisting in providing animal health management activities, including vaccinations, providing care, feeding, and husbandry of farm animals, assisting or conducting customary tasks on a farm concerning farm animals and transporting or moving livestock.
Farm and ranch owners or lessees must post a sign with the following statutory language:
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 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.
Previously, farm and ranch owners and lessees were not required to hang signs with such warnings. Now, you must do so. You can make your own sign, but they are available through the Texas Farm Bureau and I am sure will soon be available through Texas Southwest Cattleraisers Association and the Independent Cattlemen’s Association of Texas.
Operating a small cattle operation myself, I appreciate this amendment. If you own a farm, ranch or lease property for such farm animal activities, you should post the sign on September 1, 2021. If you are needing assistance in preserving your farm or ranch, or perhaps finding the best way to pass your operation or land to the next generation, contact an attorney who’s focus is on estate planning and who understands farming or ranching.